Paris Saint-Germain have denied allegations they tried to pressure the organiser of the Ballon d’Or into giving Lionel Messi the prestigious honour in 2021.
After his long reign of success in Barcelona, the Argentina star had joined PSG earlier that year – but was in a close-run contest for the top prize alongside Polish striker Robert Lewandowski.
The French giants have been accused of trying to influence those at France Football magazine, who decide the winner of the Ballon d’Or, so that it would fall in the favour of their new signing Messi.
Le Monde reports that an ongoing legal investigation claims PSG were lobbying for Messi to get the honour by offering gifts and other benefits to Pascal Ferre, who was then editor-in-chief of France Football and responsible for organising the Ballon d’Or.
A probe from the General Inspectorate of the National Police claims that Ferre received match tickets and a business-class flight from the Parisian club in 2020 and 2021 when he was still in charge of France Football magazine.
He denied the report, claiming that he voted for Lewandowski, who was at Bayern Munich at the time of the 2021 ballot.
To further complicate matters, the 2020 edition of the award was scrapped due to the impact of Covid-19 on the football world, with Lewandowski a leading candidate if it was given out for his Bayern Munich performances.
However, Messi won the 2021 prize, the seventh of his eight Ballons d’Or to date, which would have been huge coup for PSG just months after acquiring him.
On collecting the award, the Argentinian mentioned the Polish striker he pipped to the title by 33 points. Messi said: “I would like to mention Robert Lewandowski, it’s been a real honour to compete with you.
“Everyone knows and we agree that you were the winner last year . I think France Football should award you your [trophy last year] – you deserve it and you should have it at home.”
Speaking after the ceremony, Lewandowski said Messi’s words ‘really touched me’, and that it was ‘a nice moment in my career’, despite having to get PSG’s Kylian Mbappe to help translate conversations between them.