Lionel Messi takes his seat in pantheon of greats

Lionel Messi

"And I know I'll do it, I'm convinced I will."

As for the Ballon d'Or, due to be presented in January, only Michel Platini has previously won the accolade for three years running but Messi appears destined to surpass the Frenchman as well as Dutch legends Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, who were also honoured with the award on three occasions.

"Messi will be the player to win the most Ballons d'Or in history," predicts Cruyff.

"He will win five, six, seven. He is incomparable. He's in a different league."

Away from the sport, Messi cuts a far more bashful figure than his great rival Ronaldo, but that has not prevented him from amassing a huge personal fortune through several lucrative endorsements, notably with Adidas.

He was named one of Time magazine's people of 2011 and is also a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, but it is through his dazzling dribbling, his carefully weighted passing and his artful finishing that he has earned his global fame.

Typically deployed in a roving forward role, he roams the pitch with seemingly boyish abandon and few things hush a stadium more quickly than the sight of Messi embarking on one of his gambolling runs towards goal.

"There are no words left to describe him -- he is interplanetary," said Real Zaragoza coach Jose Aurelio Gay in March 2010.

"We could have beaten Barcelona but we could never have beaten Leo Messi. If we had scored four, he would have scored 12."

The terrifying thought for Barcelona's rivals is that he is still getting better.

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