Paris Saint-Germain has denied allegations that they tried to pressure the organizer of the Ballon d’Or into giving Lionel Messi the prestigious honor in 2021.
Messi had joined PSG earlier that year after his long reign of success in Barcelona but was in a close contest for the top prize alongside Polish striker Robert Lewandowski.
The French club has been accused of attempting to influence those at France Football magazine, who decide the winner of the Ballon d’Or, in favor of Messi.
Le Monde reports that an ongoing legal investigation claims PSG lobbied for Messi to receive the honor by offering gifts and other benefits to Pascal Ferre, who was then editor-in-chief of France Football and responsible for organizing 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 PSG in 2020 and 2021 when he was still in charge of France Football magazine.
Ferre, who is now the director of press and media relations for the PSG first team, denied the report, stating that he voted for Lewandowski, who was at Bayern Munich at the time of the 2021 ballot.
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, his seventh of eight Ballons d’Or to date, which would have been a significant 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.”
After the Ballon d’Or ceremony, Robert Lewandowski mentioned that Lionel Messi’s words “really touched me” and described it as “a nice moment in my career,” despite needing PSG’s Kylian Mbappe to help translate conversations between them.
Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or in 2021 after leaving Europe to play for MLS side Inter Miami. Meanwhile, Robert Lewandowski, who picked up the Striker of the Year award in 2021, finished second in the main Ballon d’Or race.
In 2022, Lewandowski left Bayern Munich and joined Barcelona. It remains to be seen if the 35-year-old striker can contend for the Ballon d’Or once again.