With Ronaldo off the pace this season, Messi is now ready to stay on top for good

It wasn't his best year. It wasn't his worst year. It was somewhere in between. Yet astonishingly, somewhere in between is still better than everyone else on the planet.

In the battle for 21st century football supremacy, Lionel Messi's triumph at the Ballon d'Or on Monday takes him to six world crowns, one more than long-term rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

After a barren spell of four years, with Ronaldo winning twice and Luka Modric usurping both of them last year, this individual milestone will mean a lot to the Barcelona captain as he edges ahead of the Portuguese in their engrossing contest which has now spanned over a decade.

Lionel Messi poses with his six Ballon d'Or awards after winning again in Paris on Monday

His great rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, has now been left behind on five Ballon d'or wins

This graph shows the progression of their Ballon d'or wins, and how Messi now leads the race

MESSI VS RONALDO - INDIVIDUAL HONOURS

Ballon d'Or

Messi - 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019 (6)

Ronaldo - 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 (5)

UEFA Men's Player of the Year

Messi - 2008-09, 2010-11, 2014-15 (3)

Ronaldo - 2007-08, 2013-14, 2015-16, 2016-17 (4)

Golden shoe

Messi - 2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19 (6)

Ronaldo - 2007-08, 2010-11, 2013-14, 2014-15 (4)

It was 11 years ago when Ronaldo won his first Ballon d'Or, regarded as the most prestigious individual award in world football.

He was still at Manchester United then, in a year when he won the Champions League.

One year later, the roles were reversed and Messi entered the history books, effectively securing the title with a virtuoso performance in the Champions League final against Ronaldo's United, in which he scored his first goal against an English club.

Messi then went three clear with four straight prizes from 2009-2012, before Ronaldo clawed back the big deficit amidst a Real Madrid juggernaut in European competition.

Last year saw the first winner not called Messi or Ronaldo since Kaka in 2007, with Luka Modric the recipient after a stellar season with both Real Madrid and World Cup finalists Croatia.

This time round, Virgil van Dijk pushed them close after a year in which the Liverpool centre-back won the Champions League as well as the UEFA Men's Player of the Year gong.

Messi was named as the greatest player in the game yet again after another spectacular year

Ronaldo could not compete despite having another successful year with Juventus

MESSI VS RONALDO - TEAM HONOURS

Messi

La Liga - 10Champions League - 4Copa del Rey - 6Supercopa de Espana - 8UEFA Super Cup - 3Club World Cup - 32008 Olympics gold medal

TOTAL - 35

Ronaldo

Champions League - 5 Premier League - 3 FA Cup - 1 League Cup - 2La Liga - 2 Copa del Rey - 2Serie A - 1UEFA Super Cup - 2 Club World Cup - 4 Supercopa de Espana - 2Supercoppa Italiana - 1Euro 2016 2018-19 UEFA Nations League

TOTAL - 27

But it was Messi's time once again. It says a lot about the heavenly level of the Argentinean's play that he was still voted the best in a year when his primary goal was not achieved... and in humiliating fashion.

In a emotional speech to the Nou Camp faithful at the start of last season, Messi said he was desperate to win Europe's flagship competition again.

The first leg of the semi-final in April was dominated by the 5ft 7in magician. A breathtaking free-kick, beyond the reach of 2019's in-form goalkeeper Alisson, flew gloriously into the top corner. Top bins, to use the vernacular.

It gave Barca a three-goal lead, and surely a spot in the final in Madrid.

But, just six days later, Messi was helpless as Liverpool stormed back on a famous European night at Anfield. For Messi and Barcelona, especially given a similar scenario played out a year earlier against Roma, it was nothing short of disastrous.

And yet, Messi's individual heroics shone brightest. He scored 51 goals in 50 matches in all competitions last season, and although the heartbreak in Europe stung, reaching 10 La Liga titles was a truly sensational feat.

Furthermore, perhaps it's easier to appreciate Messi when he's not playing.

Out of the team at the beginning of this season due to a calf injury, Barca slumped to an opening day defeat against Athletic Bilbao and also lost away to Granada.

Upon his return though, much to the relief of under pressure manager Ernesto Valverde, Barca have stormed to the top of the table despite their indifferent start. And put simply, Messi is the difference.

Time and time again, the 32-year-old produces the goods, and is the inspiration for not just the team, but the club. With Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Neymar long gone, never before have Barcelona felt so reliant on Messi.

Ten years on from his first golden ball, Messi continues to scale astronomical heights. And with Cristiano Ronaldo, who will turn 35 in February, struggling to replicate his very best form under Maurizio Sarri at Juventus, Messi is now the favourite to finish with more world crowns than his Portuguese rival.

Messi, now 32, scored a grand total of 51 goals last season, and is on 10 already this season

Virgil van Dijk had a spectacular year for Liverpool, yet still could not pip Messi to the award

Six-five already tells its own story, as does the furious reaction of Ronaldo's sister to an innocent Virgil van Dijk joke at his expense. Cristiano is hurting, and this titanic battle for the ages is on the verge of being lost.

Messi could win one more, two more, or three more Ballon d'Ors. That is down to the man himself, and fitness permitting. Now ahead of his greatest rival he has a chance to prove beyond debate that, when he's near his best, no-one else comes close on a football pitch.

No wonder Ronaldo skipped the ceremony - imagine watching the moment his rival finally settled the debate over who is the greatest of all time.

Messi's six wins: (from top left to bottom right) 2019, 2015, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009

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