Having won the title of Time Athlete of the Year, Lionel Messi has accomplished a historic first for male footballers

Lionel Messi has created history by becoming the first male soccer player to earn TIME’s Athlete of the Year title.

Lionel Messi is TIME's 2023 Athlete of the Year

Person of the Year has been honored by TIME Magazine every year since it was founded in 1927. Mark Zuckerberg, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Pope John XXIII, Barack Obama, and others have previously received this accolade.

Lionel Messi pictured playing for Inter Miami against Charlotte FC in October 2023Inter Miami captain Lionel Messi pictured lifting his Ballon d'Or trophy at a celebration event at DRV PNK Stadium in November 2023

But the publication’s Athlete of the Year honor was first given out in 2019.

The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) won the Women’s World Cup together for the first time, not long after players like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan had brought home their nation’s fourth title.

In addition, NBA icon LeBron James, gymnastics great Simone Biles, and baseball player Aaron Judge have all received this honor.

352 days have gone since Messi’s team, Argentina, won the FIFA Men’s World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

The 36-year-old then moved from Paris Saint-Germain to Inter Miami in July, where he scored on his debut from an incredible last-minute free kick, cemented his place as one of the greatest icons in American sports history.

But his relocation to America hardly changed anything.

Even though he was paid a significantly bigger transfer fee to play for a team in the Saudi Pro League, Messi admitted in a TIME interview that his first choice upon leaving PSG had been to return to Barcelona.

Thankfully, Messi said, “I had a few intriguing options on the table, and I had to consider them carefully and even weigh them with my family before making the decision to come to Miami.”

“Going back to Barcelona was my first choice, but it was not feasible. I attempted to go back, but it was unsuccessful.

TIME has named Lionel Messi of Inter Miami the 2023 Athlete of the Year.

David Jensen/Icon Sportswire/IMAGO

“It is also true that later on, I was considering going to the Saudi league, as I am familiar with the country and they have established a very strong competition that has the potential to grow into a major league very soon,” he continued.

As the nation’s tourism ambassador, I was drawn to the place because, among other reasons, I have always enjoyed traveling there, football is becoming more and more popular there, and elite competitions are being established.

“I found both Saudi Arabia and the Major League Soccer (MLS) to be highly intriguing.”

Messi has only appeared in 14 games for Miami, but already he has 11 goals and 5 assists. He has also contributed to the team’s first-ever trophy win by putting on multiple outstanding performances throughout the 2023 Leagues Cup winning season.

Messi won the Ballon d’Or in October after being selected as the finest male player in world soccer for a record-breaking eighth time.

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