Barcelona's Lionel Messi awarded his third Ballon d'Or

Lionel Messi
Barcelona's Messi beat Xavi and Cristiano Ronaldo to win the award

Lionel Messi has won the Fifa Ballon d'Or prize for the best player of 2011, becoming only the fourth player in history to win the trophy three times.

The Argentine forward, 24, beat Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona team-mate Xavi to the prize.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson won an award for services to football, while Messi's boss Pep Guardiola was voted coach of the year.

"I think [Messi] is going to break all the records that exist," said Xavi.

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Messi, who previously won the prestigious accolade in 2009 and 2010, was man of the match in Barca's 2011 Champions League final victory over Manchester United and also won the Primera Division, Spanish Supercopa, Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup last year.

Dutchmen Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, plus Frenchman Michael Platini, are the others to have won the award on three occasions.

And Messi joined them after gaining 47.88% of votes in the survey among national team coaches, captains and selected media, with Ronaldo taking 21.6% and Xavi 9.23%.

"It's a great personal pleasure for me," said Messi.

"It's the third time I've won it. It's just an amazing honour. I want to thank everyone that's been involved with me - my team-mates, trainers, physios, the coach and everyone at Barcelona.

"I'd also like to thank the Argentina national team as well."

Messi's Barcelona team-mate Xavi paid tribute to the winner: "He's still young, only 24. He's going to be one of the best footballers in the history of the sport."

Ferguson, 70, received the presidential award from Sepp Blatter after leading United to their 19th English championship, the 12th of the Scot's reign.

He said: "I have been a very, very lucky manager to have had so many good players who have shared my vision and passion, and that's what makes Manchester United such a special club.

"They retain the courage to play, the courage to try and win."

Brazilian 19-year-old Neymar beat Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Messi to win the Fifa Puskas award for the best goal of 2011.

The Santos forward scored a dazzling solo goal against Flamengo in the Brazilian championship, pipping Rooney's overhead kick against Manchester City and Messi's Champions League strike against Arsenal.

Other awards went to Japan's women's World Cup-winning captain Homare Sawa for the women's player of the year, while the Japanese manager Norio Sasaki earned his coach of the year award for women's football.

The Japanese FA was also awarded the Fifa fair play award.