Lionel Messi confessed he was “hurt” after Cristiano Ronaldo matched his tally of five Ballons d’Or by clinching the award in 2017.
The Paris Saint-Germain forward, 34, set a record many believed could never equalled by winning the coveted golden ball trophy for four consecutive years while at Barcelona between 2009 and 2012 before adding his fifth in 2015.
But Ronaldo responded to his great rival with a flurry of four gongs in five years at Real Madrid between 2013 and 2017 to take his total to five, adding to the Ballon d’Or he won while a Manchester United player in 2008.
Messi took great pride in his record count of five awards and he admitted it was difficult watching the Portugal icon, 36, gradually catch up to him.
The Argentina captain eventually edged ahead once again by winning his sixth Ballon d’Or in 2019, and after his success he opened up on his angst two years earlier.
“On the one hand, I appreciated having five and being the only one to do so,” Messi said.
“When Cristiano levelled me, I have to admit that it hurt me a bit. I was no longer alone at the summit.
“But it was logical, even if it is nice when you are alone on five.”
Presented by magazine France Football, the Ballon d’Or is presented to the player who amasses the most votes from a panel of journalists at the end of each year.
Remarkably, Messi finished as runner-up in each of the five years Ronaldo won the award, while the latter came second to his rival four times.
The former Barcelona superstar is the odds-on favourite to claim the 2021 Ballon d’Or and the winner will be announced during a ceremony in Paris on Monday evening.
Messi joined PSG on a free transfer this summer, so he will not have far to travel.
After picking up his sixth award two years ago, he insisted he would not rest on his laurels, adding: “I’m going to enjoy this with my family, because those times when it’s possible to do it do not last long.
“Tomorrow we will have to focus again on other objectives. I am already focused on the future. This gives me great pride, it gives me a lot of strength to continue my work.”
Messi’s calendar year statistics in 2021 make for astonishing reading, as he has 41 goals and 17 assists in 56 games for club and country.