Already considered one of soccer's greats at age 24, Lionel Messi on Monday became the first to win FIFA player of the year three times in a row.
The Barcelona and Argentina forward received the FIFA Ballon d'Or award for 2011, beating club teammate Xavi Hernandez and Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
"It's a huge honor," Messi said after accepting the trophy from retired Brazilian great Ronaldo.
The only other three-time winners are Ronaldo (1996-97, 2002) and Zinedine Zidane (1998, 2000, 2003). The FIFA award was renamed last year when it merged with France Football's Golden Ball.
On a night of Barcelona dominance, Pep Guardiola was honored as men's coach of the year. He was chosen ahead of Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho and Manchester United's Alex Ferguson.
Messi scored 55 goals in 2011 for Barcelona, which won its third Champions League title in six seasons, and he had four goals for Argentina's national team. Barcelona won five trophies last year,
Messi received 48 percent of the points in votes cast by national team coaches and captains plus selected reporters. Cristiano Ronaldo finished second with 22 percent and Xavi had 9 percent to finish third for the third straight year.