Paris Saint-Germain and France attacker Kylian Mbappe believes that Lionel Messi deserved to win the 2023 Ballon d'Or on account of his World Cup success with Argentina.
The 2022-23 campaign saw Mbappe take home a fifth successive Ligue 1 Golden Boot with 29 strikes in the French top flight, while also becoming the highest goalscorer in the history of PSG.
Messi, meanwhile, only netted 16 times in the top flight but came up with an identical number of assists - more than any other player in the division - before departing Europe for Inter Miami during the summer transfer window.
However, the duo's domestic achievements were dwarfed by Haaland's unrivalled achievements, as the Norwegian broke the record for the most goals in a Premier League season with 36 strikes from 35 matches alongside winning a historic treble.
Haaland's exploits in particular led to calls for the ex-Borussia Dortmund man to be awarded the 2023 Ballon d'Or, but while the City man was forced to watch the World Cup from home, Mbappe and Messi stole the show in Qatar.
The pair ended the tournament with 15 goals between them - a tournament-high eight for Golden Boot winner Mbappe, including a hat-trick in the final, and seven for Messi - but the Argentine would go on to hoist the iconic trophy aloft.
Speaking to the media before France's meeting with Gibraltar in Euro 2024 qualifying, as quoted by Get French Football News, Mbappe insisted that Messi was a worthy winner of the Ballon d'Or, and he knew that his record-extending eighth crown had been wrapped up after Qatar.
"I am not scared that it has escaped me. Messi deserves it. In the evening of the 18th (December), I knew he'd won the World Cup and the Ballon d'Or. I had a great season, like Haaland, but when you win the World Cup, that makes the difference," Mbappe said.
A few months on from leading Argentina to their third World Cup title, though, Messi burned bridges with a number of PSG supporters by taking an unsanctioned trip to Saudi Arabia the day after PSG lost a home match to Lorient.
The 36-year-old was briefly suspended and fined by the club for jetting off to the Middle East to fulfil commercial commitments, and while he was soon re-integrated, the saga eliminated any chances of a contract extension in Paris.
Messi would turn his nose up to playing in the Saudi Pro League to join Inter Miami, though, and he has already taken MLS by storm with 11 goals and five assists from 14 games for the Herons.
The former Barcelona man captained Argentina in Friday's World Cup 2026 qualifier with Uruguay, but he cut a frustrated figure as the holders suffered a shock 2-0 defeat, which marked their first loss in 15 games since their World Cup 2022 opener with Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Mbappe already has 15 goals to show from as many matches for PSG this season, although his contract situation remains unresolved, and he is still due to walk away as a free agent in 2024.
The France captain was on target three times and provided two assists as Les Bleus obliterated Gibraltar 14-0 in Saturday's Euro 2024 qualifier, which guaranteed Didier Deschamps's men a spot in Pot 1 of the group-stage draw.