On Monday, FIFA announced the three-man shortlist for the Ballon d'Or to be awarded next month in Switzerland. ESPNFC outlines the reasons why Barcelona's Lionel Messi should win it for the fifth consecutive year:
1. Aesthetically speaking, Messi is still the best player in the world. Football is about entertainment, especially if your side is not involved in the game and the result is not all that matters. Messi is without any doubt in my mind the most exciting player in the world to watch.
The twists and turns, control and balance that allows him to glide past defenders much bigger than he -- even when he should not be physically capable of doing so -- is to my mind the biggest example of his amazing ability. It is not even raw speed that he relies on, more an innate skill to know in which direction to guide the ball, at all times.
When Messi gets the ball anywhere on the pitch, there is the potential for excitement through breathtaking football, and that is what all watchers of the game require.
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2. He is still the flag-bearer of this great Barca side that held off Real Madrid’s challenge in May to win back from the Blancos the Spanish La Liga title and claim it for the fourth time in five years. Messi is now the highest goal-scorer in his club’s history and contributed an amazing 46 goals in just 31 games last season to take the European Golden Boot.
That was 12 goals more than Cristiano Ronaldo, who was in second, and 18 more than Atletico Madrid’s Radamel Falcao in third. He has continued in that form in this injury-plagued season, scoring 14 goals in 16 games and he has already helped Barca to the Spanish Super Cup with a two-legged win over Atletico Madrid.
3. The consistency required to hit those numbers is all the more remarkable when you consider that this comes after winning four consecutive Ballon d'Ors. The hunger to carry on succeeding season after season and the will and determination to stay at the top of his game make Messi not just the most gifted player in the World, but also the game's strongest competitor. That desire to carry a Barcelona side that has suffered with changes of coaches and a high turnover of players in recent years has again been shown this season.
After 23 official games, his side is still top of La Liga, now for more than a whole year consecutively, and into the knockout stages of the Champions League. Barca have lost just two of those 23 games and Messi was not involved in either.
One game that sticks in the memory this season was at home to Sevilla early on -- Barca had just been pegged back to 2-2 deep into injury time. Everybody in the stadium saw it as two points dropped, except Messi, who picked the ball up in a deep position and drove for the byline in a desperate attempt to seal the win. He managed to evade the final defender with an amazing piece of athleticism before desperately hooking his foot round the ball as it was going out of play -- the keeper could only parry his cross into the path of Alexis, who had the easiest of chances to win another game for Barca. This was typical Messi: Skill, drive and passion until the final whistle.
4. It is not just for Barcelona where Messi’s presence is so vital. His Argentina side has only been beaten once in 2013 and qualified directly for next summer’s World Cup, unlike Portugal and France, as the top side from the always complicated South American qualifying group with 32 points in 16 games. Messi scored 10 goals in 14 games on that route and Argentina currently sit third in the FIFA world rankings behind Spain and Germany. The one loss of 12 during the year came in October in a 3-2 defeat to Uruguay. And guess what -- Messi was not there; there seems to be a pattern emerging here.
5. Messi will not play again the rest of this calendar year. Muscle problems have been affecting him since April and he has been in and out of action since then. He has obviously been playing through the pain barrier on a number of occasions; it was noticeable in Barca’s Champions League semifinal in Munich in April that he was not fit enough to have any influence on the game. He was not risked at all in the second leg.
Time and time again he has battled back from these problems and proved himself on the pitch. After breaking down against Betis in November, he was diagnosed with a hamstring problem that would need six weeks rest. He will be back in the new year and, according to reports from Argentina in the last week -- where he has been cancelling all engagements to focus on his recovery -- he will be more determined than ever.
That in a difficult year for injuries he has done so much and scored so many goals is further reason why he should be awarded his fifth successive Ballon d’Or. Don’t bet against him being in the running for the award again next year, either.