Barcelona Spain:Lionel Messi paid tribute to Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola and his teammates on Tuesday, a day after winning the Golden Ball by a record margin.
The Argentina forward won the European Footballer of the Year award with the biggest margin ever after helping the Spanish club win the Champions League, Spanish league and Copa del Rey titles last season.
Messi said Guardiola's arrival at the start of last season brought calm to the team, which had been marked by locker room feuds in recent years.
"I've always said that he's been a very important person, not only for me but for the whole group. There's a special relationship that is more than just a player-coach one," Messi said. "The titles we won with him have been the key to winning the Golden Ball."
The 22-year-old Messi received 473 of a possible 480 points to beat Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo, last year's winner, by 240 points.
Guardiola arrived at the Camp Nou with limited coaching experience and transformed the team into the world's best, selling Ronaldinho and Deco and, eventually, Samuel Eto'o, as he brought order to a team whose onfield results were being marked by internal bickering.
"Everything would be a lot more difficult without them," Messi said of his teammates. "In previous years there was internal fighting and we weren't able to achieve anything. With the change this year I was able to win this prize."
Guardiola said that the difference between Messi and the rest was in "his head. It's his competitive soul."
"He has all the necessary qualities: he's strong, fast, a scorer, can head well, understands the game ... he dominates all aspects," Guardiola said. "This trophy is a prize for him and for the team. He's a deserved winner. He's a player of a different level."
Messi, who dedicated the award to his family, was "honored" to be the first Argentine to win the award, although he said that if the current rules had applied he believed that Diego Maradona would have won it already.
Messi said it was "nice to win this way" with the record margin, but that "it won't be easy to repeat a season like the last."
"The Golden Ball is very important for me. All those who have won it are great players. And even some greats haven't won it," the Rosario native said. "I'll be the same as always, fighting as I have been to now to win titles with Barca."
In an outstanding season, Messi scored 38 goals in 51 games in all competitions, often leaving defenders in his wake with a combination of speed, exceptional dribbling abilities and his effective left-footed strike. He recently signed a contract extension that keeps him at the Camp Nou through 2016 and he will lead Argentina at next year's World Cup.
Guardiola also praised the fact that his side had so many players at the top of the voting with Xavi Hernandez finishing third and Andres Iniesta fourth in the voting.
"I'm very proud for all of them because they are all very deserving," Guardiola said.