Messi’s eighth Ballon d’Or would be the first of its kind

Lionel Messi has won seven Ballon d’Or awards, two more than any other human, but if he wins his eighth in October it will make more history. No player from a team outside Europe has ever won the prestigious ‘Ball of Gold.’

European football’s most prestigious award, the Ballon d’Or
European football’s most prestigious award, the Ballon d’Or / PIERRE VERDY/GettyImages
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Let the debate begin…in earnest. Soccer fans have known for months that only two players are legitimate contenders for the game’s most prestigious individual award, the Ballon d’Or: Erling Haaland, the 23-year-old Norwegian and year’s most prodigious scorer, who had a spectacular first season for Manchester City; or Lionel Messi, 36, the Argentine World Cup hero who already has a record seven Golden Balls at his new home in South Florida and, oh by the way, currently plays for Inter Miami of Major League Soccer.

It's that last part that makes the prospect of winning this year's trophy special: Forty-six men have won the 66 Ballons d'Or; so far, everyone of them has played for a European team.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi of Inter Miami accepts one of his record seven Ballon D'Or awards during a ceremony at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. / Aurelien Meunier/GettyImages

The French news magazine France Football has awarded the prize every year since 1956; it was awarded only to European players until 1995, when it was expanded to include all players who had played for a European during the eligibility period.

The eligibility period for the 2023 award is Aug. 1, 2022 through July 31 (coinciding with Europe's league schedules). Messi began this transformative year playing for Paris Saint Germain alongside Neymar and Killian Mbappe, led the Argentine national team to its third World Cup championship -- and first since 1986 -- in December, and announced June 7 that he planned to sign a contract with Inter Miami. In July he began his career in Major League Soccer; the Herons haven't lost a match since he donned the Pink.