Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi won his seventh Ballon d'Or after a year in which he captained Argentina to victory at the Copa America and left Barcelona for PSG AFP / FRANCK FIFE

Argentine superstar Lionel Messi has won a record eight Ballon d'Or trophies. However, several of those wins have been embroiled in a number of controversies of different forms. The latest issue that has come to the surface is the alleged involvement of Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain FC (PSG) in influencing the results of the 2021 edition of the award.

It may be remembered that Messi won his seventh Ballon d'Or trophy back in 2021. For those unaware, the award is handed out in a ceremony hosted by France Football usually around November of each year.

The votes from national team captains, managers and members of the media from around the world are counted to determine the winner. For transparency, those votes are revealed once the winners have been announced.

What kind of manipulation is PSG accused of?

Despite the efforts to be completely transparent about the criteria, mechanics and voting, the credibility of the award has been questioned many times. In 2021 in particular, accusations have surfaced against PSG, the club which Messi had joined just months before lifting the trophy.

Publications such as Le Monde, Mediaport and Diario AS are claiming that the French Champions are being accused of "lobbying" for Messi's victory in the award that year. The club reportedly "strengthened ties" with the president of France Football at the time, Pascal Ferre. It was through this relationship that the club allegedly pushed the agenda of having the Argentine crowned as the winner.

Ferre was reportedly offered PSG match tickets, as well as a business class flight on Qatar Airways. The flight was allegedly paid for by the Qatari government, which incidentally also owns PSG. This is said to have taken place in March 2021, with the flight having cost approximately €8,986 (£7.7k).

All of these small favours were reportedly meant to lobby for Messi's win, but it is unclear how Ferre could manipulate the results enough to guarantee a win given that votes come from around the world and are revealed to the public.

Why is PSG being linked to the controversy?

In the summer of 2021, it was widely expected that Messi would sign a contract extension with FC Barcelona. Then club captain, he was considered as the club's most valuable asset and the newly-elected president, Joan Laporta, made extensive promises to make sure that Messi's extension would be signed sealed and delivered.

Laporta won the election, but the months passed until Messi's contract reached its expiration date. It was then revealed that the club, as much as it wanted to, could not offer the Argentine a contract extension due simply to the fact that they could not afford it.

FC Barcelona was under a mountain of debt that exceeded 1 billion euros, and they had gone afoul of La Liga's Financial Fair Play regulations. They had to cut the salaries of nearly everyone in the organisation, including the players and administrative staff. The club had to offload as many players as possible and cut the wages of those that remained. Even after all of those efforts, there was still not enough room for them to be able to offer Messi a new contract even if he was willing to accept a pay cut.

Messi was basically left hanging in the air after he had fully expected that the club would offer him an extension. This is when PSG swooped in to offer a solution. The Qatar-backed club has barely any financial constraints, and they were able to draw up an acceptable offer for Messi which would make it worthwhile for him to uproot his family.

At that point, while any club would love to sign him, not many could have really been able to afford to make a suitable offer especially coming off the back of a pandemic.

PSG is determined to become one of the biggest and most influential clubs in Europe, and winning the UEFA Champions League has been their target for the past several years. Adding Messi to the roster was believed to have been a step taken towards that goal, and it would have helped raise the club's profile immensely if their new signing were to win the Ballon d'Or.

Of course, Messi also won the Copa America with Argentina that summer, meaning he isn't exactly a surprise winner. Bayern Munich star Robert Lewandowski was the favourite to win the award in 2020, but the pandemic cancelled the ceremony and in 2021, he missed out against Messi.

It remains to be seen if anything will come out of this investigation but Ferre has denied the allegations.