Erling Haaland, the star of Manchester City, came close to reaching the pinnacle of global glory but woke up to a nightmare at the FIFA Best Awards.
Haaland lost "The Best" award for the best player in the world to the Argentine star Lionel Messi, despite both of them having 48 points. Behind them was the French star Kylian Mbappe with 35 points.
Messi's victory in the award for the second consecutive year, and the third in his career, raised many questions after separating from the Ballon d'Or. Messi did not attend the ceremony and was absent from the podium as he was in America preparing with his team, Inter Miami, for the upcoming season.
Messi won the award according to Article 12 of the FIFA regulations, for having a higher number of points from the votes of national team captains, 13 points compared to only 11 points for Haaland.
However, FIFA announced in its statement that the evaluation criteria would consider the players' performance from December 19, 2022, after Messi's historic achievement of winning the World Cup, which earned him the award last year.
After this date, Messi did not achieve significant accomplishments, settling for the French league title with his former team Paris Saint-Germain and some individual achievements such as having the most assists in the league.
Messi reached 100 international goals with the Argentine national team during a friendly match against Curacao, becoming the third player to achieve this feat after the Iranian icon Ali Daei and the Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo.
Messi had impressive performances with the Argentine national team in the early stages of the qualifying matches for the 2026 World Cup, in addition to winning the League Cup with his new team, Inter Miami, in the United States.
Messi's achievements were compared to those of his former teammate Kylian Mbappe, who won the league and two individual awards, Best Player and Top Scorer, in addition to leading the French national team to qualify for Euro 2024.
Mbappe continued his brilliance by leading the goal-scoring charts in the French league this season with 19 goals, in addition to 7 goals in various competitions.
However, the gap in the voting process between Messi and Mbappe was significant. Haaland's achievements were considered the most notable, especially for his significant role in Manchester City's historic treble, including the Premier League, the FA Cup, and the Champions League in 2023.
Haaland was the top scorer in both the Premier League and the Champions League last season, setting several records and winning the UEFA Super Cup with the team. He continues to lead the Premier League's goal-scoring charts this season despite missing recent weeks due to injury.
The Norwegian star also won several prestigious individual awards, such as the Best Premier League Player, Best European Player, and the Golden Boot for the English Premier League.
However, on the international level, Haaland paid a high price for the failure of the Norwegian national team to qualify for Euro 2024.
FIFA explained the voting criteria that gave Messi the award over Haaland, with Messi surpassing in the choices of national team captains and fans, while Haaland received more support from national team coaches and the media.
Messi's win will undoubtedly reopen the debate about global individual awards, raising questions about whether Haaland was unfairly treated after his extraordinary achievements in 2023. Is it Messi's popularity among the fans, FIFA's regulations that included Messi in the final list, the stars and captains of the national teams, or the fact that Norway is considered outside the major footballing nations?