In a special five part series, totalBarça will feature each of the FC Barcelona nominees from the 23-man shortlist for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or. Over the next week, a different contributor will present a nominee and argue for why he should win this year’s prestigious award before the announcement of the final three contenders on November 29th. In the last edition, Alexandra looked at the many wonders of Andrés Iniesta. Today, Roberto Curtis will make a case for the “greatest player who has ever lived”, Lionel Messi.
No, he didn’t win La Liga and he ended up crashing out of the Champions League in the semi-finals. His home country was ineligible for the Euro Cup and did little more to compete internationally than continue its World Cup qualifying campaign.
Sure, Lionel Messi’s and Pep Guardiola’s Barça only brought home a paltry Copa del Rey this year while relinquishing their league title and continental title to eternal rivals Real Madrid and Chelsea, respectively. Cristiano Ronaldo led his team in goals while Mesut Özil tied Messi for the most assists in the top five leagues in Europe. Some say such a meager haul doesn’t merit a fourth-consecutive Ballon d’Or. Hell, did you see that sick Zlatan Ibrahimovic ninja bicycle goal against England?
There has been so much glorious goal action in world football in 2012. Surely someone deserves the golden ball besides the played-out Messi. Some could argue that if Messi deserved last year’s Ballon d’Or (or the previous two) based on collective accomplishments for his club, this year is his for the sake of being who he is: the greatest player who has ever lived.
When the short list is cut down to the final three on Thursday, Messi will remain alongside Andres Iniesta and Cristiano Ronaldo most likely. All three have been crucial cogs in their conquering clubs or national teams in one way or another. Iniesta lifted Spain’s third-consecutive international trophy while the Portuguese swash-buckled his way to Spanish glory. I won’t even waste space here discussing whether or not Ronaldo had a remarkable cup because it’s not debatable. But will Ronaldo and Iniesta be plastered on the halls of football history? Iniesta’s miracles at Stamford Bridge and Johannesburg could convince me, but to have Ronaldo in the same conversation 20 or 30 years from now among Pelé, Cruyff, Maradona, van Basten, Platini and Messi? No one knows if Messi will have a World Cup under his belt by then, or if Neymar or someone born yesterday will outshine everyone there ever was. But what’s in a World Cup?
If FIFA’s international award is so often contested based on what the candidate helped his teams achieve, then Don Andrés should take all the glory. After all, who has done what Spain has done? Pelé nearly did it and has a good chunk of the glory, but what’s tougher to face—lack of referee protection 40 years ago, or the organized defenses of the present day? I tend to lean toward the modern game as being the true test of talent and endurance.
With all due respect to Iniesta, Xavi, Casillas, Brazil ‘70, France ‘98 and so on, football’s apex will likely never be realized in international football. The international schedule doesn’t allow the same cohesion as do the clubs, nationalities are restrictive and total tournament failure can be affected by something that simply rolls off the shoulders of stronger and more professional clubs. France ‘10 anyone?
Of course, the Russian roulette that is international competition is part of what makes the World Cup, Euro Cup and Copa America so enchanting, but the Ballon d’Or isn’t awarded for the sake of enchantment. It’s awarded to enchanters. It’s awarded to magicians. And no player on Earth lives up to the moniker of magician better than Lionel Messi—not even the great Illusionista himself.
Messi, Iniesta, Ronaldo–they glide across the pitch with the ball control of deities, mesmerizing defenses and audiences alike. But what they possess in terms of finesse and power, Messi hammers through the floor with empirical evidence. Here are but a few of Messi’s records from this year alone. Here are 45 more records he broke this year alone.
- Scored five goals in a single match in the Champions League
- Snatched the crown of all-time scorer for Barcelona in official matches
- Tied the record for most goals in a European Cup season
- Smashed Gerd Müller’s (67) and Archie Stark’s (70) personal records of goals in a top division season with 73 goals
- Ended the season with an all-time La Liga high of 50 goals
- Finished the European season as top scorer for the fourth-consecutive time
- Overtook Pelé and sits within three goals of Müller’s record of 85 goals in a calendar year
La Pulga Atomica also leads the scoring in La Liga by a modest seven goals. His Argentina sits top of the qualifying table for Brazil 2014 (thanks in part to his seven goals in the campaign) and he just had a kid…with his hometown girlfriend from childhood, Antonella Roccuzzo.
If there were a Ballon d’Diamant that was awarded based on footballing ability AND character, I’d still make the case for Messi. His unprecedented fourth Ballon d’Or is in the bag. It’s high time we all just say it; “Lionel Messi is the greatest football player to have ever lived.”