Lionel Messi is the best sportsman of 2023. It's better than French footballer Kylian Mbappé – even if PSG think incredibly otherwise. He is also better than Dutch driver Max Verstappen, Swedish athlete Mondo Duplantis, Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal and American basketball player Stephen Curry. This was defined by the jury of notables of the Laureus Awards, the Oscars of sport, which were delivered this Monday at the Pavillion Vendome in Paris.
But Messi's conquests, in times of turbulence at his club and with his future caught between question marks, did not end there. It is that the Argentine National Team, the one that has the Rosario as captain and that comes from lifting the World Cup in Qatar 2022, is the best team of the year. It is better than the England women's national football team, the France men's national rugby union team, the Real Madrid football team, the NBA's Golden State Warriors and the Red Bull Formula 1 team. Yes, Messi and La Scaloneta are the best of the best. And there is little to discuss.
It's the second time Messi, 35, has won a Laureus after the one he won in 2020. However, on that occasion, La Pulga shared the recognition with the British Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton. This time it was solo and he had to succeed Verstappen, winner in 2022. However, it is far from the five statuettes that the Swiss Roger Federer collected in his wonderful career as a tennis player.
"The World Cup came at the end of my career, but it was the most beautiful thing," said Messi, who was joined on stage by Argentine rugby legend Hugo Porta, who compared the Argentina captain to South African statesman Nelson Mandela for his leadership and ability to inspire others. "If Mandela were here, I would give you a hug," the former Los Pumas opener emphasized.
"It cost me a lot (the World Cup), almost my whole career. I want to share it with all of Argentina," Messi continued, visibly moved. At that time, he recalled that before he had had "many joys with Barcelona and sadness with the National Team". And he closed: "It was a teaching, with many stones in the way, to overcome myself, to overcome myself, together with my family and my loved ones," he added, who attended the evening with his partner, Antonela Roccuzzo. Together they caused a furor with their looks.
But Messi's night didn't end there. It is that Leo made history and did not need to have a ball as a tool. He didn't even have to put on his shorts. With his elegant tuxedo he became the first athlete to be twice awarded at the Laureus (individually and by teams) since these awards began in 2000. It is that the Argentine National Team also took his statuette and it was Messi who received it. And that also participated in the party the president of the AFA, Claudio Chiqui Tapia. and defender Lisandro Martínez, who was accompanied by his partner, influencer Muri López Benítez.
La Scaloneta, that magnificent and unforgettable creation of Lionel Scaloni, took the prize for his role in the World Cup in Qatar, where he won in a final-thriller against France, second in discord, after the definition by penalties to shout champion for the third time in history. A not minor detail: Messi left the gala with a pin on one of his lapels with the AFA shield and his brand new three stars.
The National Team succeeds the Italian national football team, which last year gave an unforgettable dance at Wembley in the Finalissima, that smile that served as a prologue to that unforgettable end of the year in the Middle East. "It was a reward for work, companionship, humility and respect. Not only Argentina felt identified (with our team), but much of the world. Respect above all," said Messi, who received the award from Italian coach Fabio Capello and Spanish footballer Carles Puyol, his former teammate at Barcelona, who like Porta are part of the jury of 71 notables of the Laureus Academy.
"We have fought it and we have gone through very difficult moments, but all together, with that strength, that hunger, we said to ourselves: why can't we be world champions? After the game against Saudi Arabia, as Leo said, you had to believe," said Licha Martinez, who is recovering from an injury to one of his feet. He added: "We did it with the humility of accepting defeat, respecting the rivals when we win and lose."
Chiqui Tapia also had the floor, who said that the triumph in Qatar was "a great joy for all Argentines who felt proud of their country at a very special moment." And he closed: "When there is a project and a whole team wants the same there are no impossibles", closed the strong man of Argentine football who is traveling through Europe for commercial matters.
It was another Argentine night in Paris, with Messi shining again after a week convulsed by his trip to Saudi Arabia that led to an unprecedented sanction from the PSG leadership. Hours before becoming the center of the sports universe, the Flea had at least obtained the pardon of his Qatari employers and was able to train at the Camp des Loges, the sports grounds of his club. It was the same day that in Spain they assured, without any basis, that his future was tied to Al Hilal, the Arab team led by Ramón Díaz. For now, nothing is resolved. It is only known that Messi and La Scaloneta are the best of the best.
The other winners
Carlos Alcaraz, the revelation of the year.
A day after lifting the Masters 1,000 in Madrid, Carlos Alcaraz, 20, received the Laureus as the revelation athlete of 2023. He weighed his conquest of the US Open in September last year and having been the youngest men's world number one in history. The Portuguese Luis Figo was the one who gave the statuette to the young Murcia, who was seen having a fun chat with Messi.
As the best female athlete of 2022, the Jamaican athlete Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 36, surprised the Spanish soccer player Alexia Putellas, the American swimmer Katie Ledecky and the Polish tennis player Iga Swiatek, among others.
Danish footballer Christian Eriksen, 31, won the award for the best comeback of the year, after recovering from a cardiac arrest in June 2021, in the middle of the European Championship match against Finland.
Christian Eriksen, return of the year. Photo: EFE
The other categories went to the Swiss Catherine Debrunner, as best Paralympic athlete; and the American skier Eileen Gu, as the best extreme athlete. Finally, Polish footballer Robert Lewandowski presented the award in the "Sport for Good" category to the TeamUp initiative, a partnership between Save the Children, Unicef Netherlands and War Child, which was launched in 2022 in Poland with Ukrainian children refugees because of the Russian invasion.