Inside the Ballon d'Or ceremony, Lionel Messi's gut feeling and post-bash celebrations

The great and good of the beautiful game descended onto the city of Paris on Monday to play their part in what has swiftly become the most glamorous event in the football calendar.

From its humble beginnings as an award handed out by organisers France Football – a French magazine – the Ballon d’Or awards has garnered a prestige like no other individual honour of its type within the confines of its own sport.

It brings the elite stars out in force, many travelling overseas for one night only, dressed to impress, but all with the same ambition of landing the coveted Golden Ball.

The red carpet is traditionally rolled out for the faces of Hollywood, but this is very much football’s own Oscars, with all the leading actors on screen.

The Ballon d’Or awards have taken on a prestige all of their own


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Turn down Rue Saint-Denis or Avenue Victoria when the Ballon d’Or is in town and you are met with a wave of frenzied people, brimming with excitement, all clambering to catch a glimpse of their heroes.

No wall is left unguarded, no lamppost unmanned, no treetop unclimbed. Others had even scaled onto the roof of a small building opposite. It is simply bedlam in the French capital.

Social distancing is long out the window for the waiting masses, which has its own irony, given this was the first Ballon d’Or ceremony in two years after the 2020 event fell victim to the everlasting impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This year’s guest list did not escape unscathed either, as a number of football’s elite stayed away due to the undesired prospect of having to quarantine on return.

Representatives for France Football told the Mirror: “Every player wants to come but sometimes they have to negotiate with the club and it can be harder than we think.

“Kevin De Bruyne likes to come normally but he only recently contracted Covid so couldn’t.”

Some notable faces not to make the trip included Cristiano Ronaldo, who furiously denied the suggestion his absence was due to any alleged quarantine.

But the Manchester United star was not the only Premier League star to avoid the bash, with strong contender Mohamed Salah also among those missing in action, as well as Chelsea ’s contingent, some of whom had serious credentials to walk away with the grand prize.

Others, such as those representing Juventus, stayed at home, given they play matches the following evening.

As highly regarded as it is, even the Ballon d’Or does not get in the way of the relentless football calendar.

The Theatre de Chatelet is prepared for the awards before the crowds descended


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Still, an RSVP was the least one club could do, albeit only cancelling their attendance just 24 hours before showtime.

Nevertheless, it didn’t dampen the mood round the Theatre du Chatelet on a night of celebration following a year of some simply tremendous football.

Guests arrived in separate chauffeur-driven cars, most flanked by their partners, children, family or friends.

Robert Lewandowski was among the first of the big-name stars to arrive, accompanied by wife Anna, as the Bayern Munich striker offered a wave to the wall of camera phones in front of him as he stepped out into the cool Paris air.

There were cheers, too, for the likes of Luis Suarez and Gianluigi Donnarumma as they made their way inside, while it was clear Barcelona ’s Pedri is developing a big following beyond Spain as he closely followed behind club president Joan Laporta.

Yet it wouldn’t take too many guesses to figure out who the locals were saving their energy for.

Mbappe’s arrival prompted big cheers despite him stalling on Leonardo’s contract offer to stay in Paris


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Kylian Mbappe’s appearance brought an enthusiastic response to suggest his dalliances with Real Madrid are, at least for now, being ignored again.

But while he remains Paris’s Prince, there can be only one King, and the throne remains reserved for Lionel Messi.

The Argentine drew the loudest cheer of the evening as he took to the red carpet with wife Antonella and sons Mateo, Thiago and Ciro all in glittering blazers to match their fathers.

This is his stage, after all.

Once inside, Messi joined the rest of the players in posing for pictures with guests while enjoying the company of those they often share a pitch or dressing room with.

One guest remarked to Mirror Football: “Honestly, Messi, I think he’s a good guy. You know football players are not like everybody and it’s difficult to say hello and have a discussion, but together I think they are friends. It’s a totally different perspective when you are outside of the circle.”

Messi’s three sons wore the same matching blazers as him while wife Antonella dazzled in gold


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Many of the guests were seated on the upper floors of the opera house venue, with the lucky few getting to sit within earshot of football’s finest down on the ground floor, the orchestra.

Messi and Mbappe may be struggling to make music in PSG’s attack, but the pair seemed to have little trouble hitting the right tune when sat laughing and joking side by side throughout the ceremony, sandwiched between Lewandowski and Suarez in a front four of dreams.

It proved to be a prosperous evening for them, with Lewandowski celebrated as the striker of the year before Messi collected a record seventh Ballon d’Or crown.

It was not what Lewandowski had come for, but there was no shred of animosity between any of the players.

“The atmosphere was very friendly,” one guest explained. “You know there are a lot of people that know each other, because it’s a small world and they were able to talk to people they hadn’t seen for a long time.”

Robert Lewandowski didn’t win the main prize but did not go home empty handed



Perhaps Messi can afford to be more relaxed than his counterparts, given there is little pressure or expectation on his shoulders, or even in his own thoughts, to win another Ballon d’Or.

Though that doesn’t safeguard him from some elements of self doubt.

A source, who attended the ceremony and claims to be a friend of Messi, said: “He’s very happy. He never believed he would win it tonight. He really didn’t.”

The Argentine was probably the only person inside the venue who was sceptical, such is his grip on this competition.

Speaking in his press conference afterwards, even Messi had to concede he had achieved something remarkable: “Seven is really impressive,” he said. “I’m very happy to win it here in Paris.”

A source who claimed to know Messi well says the forward did not expect to win the award again


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He did not pass up the opportunity to toast his triumph, as all the nominees were given a private section of the theatre to mingle in post-ceremony.

“The players just had a drink together inside for 30 minutes, without guests, just them and it was kind of their moment,” a France Football journalist said.

“They had a little cocktail or water if they chose, along with legends such as [Fabio] Cannavaro. It was a calm moment for them just to chat, feel good and relax.”

Classical cocktails were on the drinks menu for guests, along with an array of snacks and finger food served on the first floor.

“It was definitely not basic catering,” one guest stated. “It was good food. There was meat, fish, sweets. To drink: cocktails, champagne, fruit juice, red wine, white wine.”

It was Messi’s night once again in Paris as he made it number seven


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Sadly for most of the finely-tuned athletes present however, the chance to indulge was all too fleeting.

Barcelona’s attendees boarded an immediate flight back to Spain, while others returned to their hotels well before the official after party wound down at the modest time of 11:30pm.

Rock and Roll this isn’t.

But what about the man of the hour?

His aforementioned acquaintance suggested Messi would not be immediately returning home but instead had plans for a “late dinner” at a top restaurant in Paris reserved exclusively for him and invited guests.

Not an inconceivable suggestion, but with PSG due to play on Tuesday evening too, it’s unlikely things got too raucous for the world’s greatest player deep into the night.

In any event, any further details were very much kept hush, and Mirror Football’s invite must have got lost in the post with Lewandowski’s 2020 Ballon d’Or trophy.

Guess we’ll all have to wait till next year.

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