Now peerless, Leo Messi claims fourth FIFA Ballon d’Or

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Leo Messi is now peerless in the modern game in terms of individual, global achievement. The fabulous little Barcelona and Argentina national team magician has claimed his fourth FIFA player of the year honor, handed the Ballon d’Or by world soccer’s governing body today in Swizterland.

France’s Zinedine Zidane and Brazil’s Ronaldo were both three-time winners, but Messi is now alone with four. (The award has been around since 1991, so Pele, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff and other giants of a previous day never had the same chance at world soccer’s ultimate individual decoration.)

As for the 2012 honor, Messi was one of three finalists, along with Barca teammate Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo, a rival goal-scorer for Spanish rival Real Madrid.

But finding anyone who thought Messi had real competition for this honor was tough, and for good reason. The highly versatile 25-year-old attacker struck for an astonishing 91 goals in all competitions (for Spanish giants Barcelona and internationally for powerful Argentina), eclipsing Gerd Muller’s 40-year record for the most goals in a calendar year.

If scoring 91 goals to set a new world standard doesn’t get you the game’s highest award, what will?

According to FIFA, Messi claimed 41.60 percent of the voting. Ronaldo was next with 23.68 percent, followed by Iniesta with 10.91 percent.

(MORE: Notes on Monday’s ceremony)

The one glitch in the Messi matrix has always been his far more modest success while guiding Argentina internationally (although the train wreck of Maradona as manager of the Albiceleste at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was surely a mitigating factor in the Argentine flop.)

That argument against Messi went out the world soccer window in 2012 when he hit five times in five World Cup qualifiers, building on that with hat-tricks in friendlies against Brazil and Switzerland.

Even Ronaldo had seemed resigned to runner-up status, at best, before Monday’s announcement: “If I win, perfect. If I don’t, never mind, life goes on.”

(MORE: U.S. striker Abby Wambach wins Women’s Player of the Year)

FIFA transfer reforms target $400M for lower-tier clubs

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ZURICH (AP) — FIFA believes it can direct up to $400 million each year toward clubs worldwide entitled to a share of transfer fees paid for their former players.

FIFA says a key part of intended transfer market reforms will “ensure clubs are adequately rewarded for training players.”

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

Since current transfer rules were updated in 2001, clubs have been due training compensation and solidarity payments from transfers paid in the careers of players they helped nurture.

FIFA acknowledges the “overly complicated and burdensome” system of calculating payments is understood by too few clubs.

A clearing house will aim to process transfer payments more efficiently.

FIFA research suggests tens of millions of dollars were paid to clubs last year instead of their entitlement of at least $350 million.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Brighton outlasts Derby despite Ashley Cole goal (video)

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
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Despite a late scare, dominant Brighton and Hove Albion put an end to Frank Lampard‘s run in the FA Cup with a 2-1 defeat of Derby County at the Amex Stadium on Saturday.

Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia scored in the final dozen minutes of the first half for the Seagulls, who will learn their quarterfinal foe on Monday.

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

Substitute Ashley Cole scored in the 80th minute for the Rams, who were heavily outshot in the match.

It was Cole’s first goal in England since 2012, when he bagged a Premier League marker for Chelsea against Stoke City.

Locadia was injured just before the Seagulls conceded, and looked to be in considerable pain with an ankle injury.

American attacker Duane Holmes started up top for Derby but was subbed after 45 minutes. The 24-year-old Columbus-born man has become a regular starter under Lampard.

Sir Alex Ferguson to manage Man Utd in anniversary match

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The 20th Anniversary of Manchester United’s treble, to the day, will see Sir Alex Ferguson managing the club.

This, of course, is for a single night only, as the Red Devils celebrate their 1999 treble with a testimonial of sorts against Bayern Munich, who it beat 2-1 to win the Champions League on May 26, 1999.

[ MORE: Lingard, Martial injured ]

“I’m really looking forward to what will be a special day at Old Trafford. It will be great to catch up with some familiar faces and a great opportunity to support the work of Manchester United Foundation,” Ferguson said.

Players for the game are not confirmed but imagine the possibilities: Peter Schmeichel was across the field from Oliver Kahn. Lothar Matthaus had to deal with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and the Neville brothers started or were in the 18.

Keep in mind that Solskjaer scored the winner for Ferguson’s United that day at the Camp Nou, as the Red Devils scored twice in stoppage time for a remarkable comeback win.

FA Cup, LIVE – Man City, Brighton in action

AP Photo/Rui Vieira
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A pair of Premier League team attempt to dodge upset bids with varying degrees of likelihood, while one of the guaranteed lower league quarterfinal berths will also be clinched during Saturday’s FA Cup action

Brighton and Hove Albion opens the day hoping to outlast Frank Lampard-led Derby County at the Amex Stadium.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

The other Premier League side, Man City, visits League Two side Newport County. Pep Guardiola is wary of the side’s physicality, but an upset is the longest of long shots.

Sandwiched in the middle is Millwall’s visit to AFC Wimbledon, the League One hosts hoping to continue the magic that helped them knock off the visitors’ rivals: West Ham United of the Premier League.

FA Cup Saturday
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Derby County — 7:30 am. ET
AFC Wimbledon v. Millwall — 10 a.m. ET
Newport County v. Man City — 12:30 p.m. ET