Ballon d'Or: Messi wins (again), Rapinoe honoured, but where's Ronaldo?
Lionel Messi took home world football's most coveted prize (again), but the Ballon d'Or ceremony was also notable for who DIDN'T attend.
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Let's face it, the announcement from France Football for the annual Ballon d'Or winners is often one of the worst-kept secrets of the awards world and this year was no exception. Lionel Messi won his sixth Ballon d'Or as the world's best male player.
Last year's winner, Luka Modric, was brought on stage by emcee Didier Drogba to give his Barcelona rival the award -- a nice gesture given that Messi wasn't in attendance to see the Croatian pick up the award in 2018.
United States star Megan Rapinoe won the women's Ballon d'Or and got a nice message from former White House first lady Michelle Obama.
Poorly kept secrets aside, the 2019 edition of the gala event in Paris was once again notable for who WASN'T there.
Women's winner Rapinoe, who helped the U.S. to a second consecutive World Cup win this summer in France, was not on hand, nor were global superstars Cristiano Ronaldo, who was nominated and finished third behind Messi and Virgil van Dijk, or Neymar, who was not nominated at all.
"I'm so sad I can't make it tonight. It's absolutely incredible, congrats to the other nominees. I can't believe I'm the one winning in this field, it's been an incredible year," Rapinoe said in a recorded message. "I want to thank my teammates and the U.S. federation."
Last year, none of Messi, Ronaldo or Neymar showed up to see Modric win the big prize. ESPN FC scoured social media in light of their absences and cobbled together a semblance of what they might have been doing.
Along with good sport Modric, Messi's Barcelona teammate Antoine Griezmann turned up to see the Argentine accept his prize, further putting to bed rumours of a rift between the two at the Camp Nou.
In other awards, Dutchman Matthijs de Ligt, a key player in Ajax Amsterdam's thrilling run to the Champions League semifinals and now at Juventus, won the Kopa trophy for the best under-21 male player in the world following a vote of international journalists. He was presented with the award by last year's winner, Kylian Mbappe.
Alisson Becker, one of four Liverpool players in the top seven for the men's Ballon d'Or, was awarded the new Yashin trophy for the best male goalkeeper of the year.
As for Ronaldo, his excuse is that he was in Milan picking up the Serie A player of the year award, but we have a sneaking suspicion he just couldn't bear to watch in person as Messi officially edged him 6-5 for the most Ballon d'Ors between the two.
Van Dijk sets record straight with Morgan
Virgil van Dijk has hit back at TV presenter and social-media aggravator Piers Morgan after the latter couldn't help but wade in on a comment the Liverpool defender made about Ronaldo.
With Ronaldo choosing not to attend the Ballon d'Or gala, fellow shortlisted Van Dijk was asked by a reporter if he felt his chances of winning the award had gone up due to having "one less rival to worry about."
The Dutch centre-back replied in jest: "Was Cristiano really a rival?"
This sparked a response from Morgan, who tweeted: "No... [Cristiano Ronaldo] is a far greater player, you're not in his league."
In customary fashion, Van Dijk then arrived on the scene with a well-timed intervention.
"Hi Piers," he replied. "If you don't jump on the social media bandwagon and would listen to the whole interview then you would know I made a joke, and only got respect for those two [Ronaldo and Messi]."
In fairness, Morgan accepted he'd been bested by the superior player and simply congratulated Van Dijk on his "good tackle."
Van Dijk ultimately finished second in the Ballon d'Or running behind Messi and several hundred votes ahead of Ronaldo, who completed the top three.
Drogba and Mbappe share mega-selfie that is 10 years in the making
Indeed, the former Chelsea striker later revealed the "Sliding Doors" moment that led to him grabbing a long overdue selfie with the Paris Saint-Germain star.
Mbappe was in attendance at Stamford Bridge on the night Chelsea had a series of penalties turned down in a 2009 Champions League semifinal against Barcelona by referee Tom Henning Ovrebo before being knocked out by Andres Iniesta's late goal.
"Ten years ago after Chelsea vs Barcelona, a child came to me and wanted to take a picture," Drogba said.
"That day I said no because of the disgraceful refereeing decisions. I learned that the child was Kylian Mbappe. I want to pay my debt now."
It may have taken him a while, but the balance has finally been restored with interest.