In the world of football, there are certain players who transcend the sport, who elevate it to a level that leaves us in awe, who make us believe in magic on the pitch. One such player is Lionel Messi, a name that echoes through the annals of footballing history. In this article, we delve into why Lionel Messi, despite a challenging season at club level, is undeniably deserving of his eighth Ballon d’Or.
The World Cup Redemption
“It’s been an absolute privilege to watch Lionel Messi for nearly two decades. Moment after moment of spellbinding, breathtakingly joyous football. He’s a gift from the footballing Gods. Gracias y felicidades, campeón.” – Gary Lineker
Former Barcelona striker Gary Lineker’s words capture the essence of Lionel Messi’s impact on the beautiful game. Despite numerous accolades and records in his illustrious career, one prize had eluded him – the FIFA World Cup. The frustration of falling short in 2014 and struggling with the weight of expectations on the international stage was a narrative that had lingered for years.
But in the 2022 World Cup, Messi silenced the doubters and solidified his legacy as one of the greatest players of all time. Leading Argentina to victory, he showcased his brilliance, scoring seven goals, providing crucial assists, and earning five Man of the Match awards. His performances were nothing short of magical, leaving fans and pundits in awe.
A Record-Breaking World Cup
Messi’s World Cup campaign was historic in many ways. He became the first player in World Cup history to score in every stage of the tournament – group stage, last 16, quarter-final, semi-final, and final. His goal contributions were unmatched, with 13 goals and eight assists over five World Cup tournaments. Only three players have scored more World Cup goals than Messi.
Diego Maradona, a legendary figure in Argentine football, was long considered an unrivaled hero for leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986. However, Messi’s statistics now place him in the same echelon of greatness. He has not only stepped out of Maradona’s shadow but also established himself as one of the all-time World Cup greats.
Leadership and Inspiration
“He is such a huge player for us. It is such a pleasure for us to coach him. Everything he transmits to his team-mates is unparalleled – something I’ve never seen before.” – Lionel Scaloni, Argentina’s coach
Messi’s impact extended beyond the scoresheet. As the captain, he led by example and inspired his teammates to reach their highest potential. From the first match to the final, he demanded excellence and displayed qualities befitting a great leader.
Even in the face of adversity, like Argentina’s shock loss to Saudi Arabia and a nervy start against Mexico, Messi remained a driving force. His brilliance shone through with every touch, pass, and dribble. His impact on and off the pitch was immeasurable, showcasing a level of leadership that transcends individual brilliance.
The PSG Perspective
While Messi’s World Cup heroics were undeniable, his club career in the 2022-23 season with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) was marked by ups and downs. After a slow start, he found his form, scoring 12 goals and providing 14 assists, leading Europe’s top five leagues in goal contributions. His partnership with Kylian Mbappe and Neymar began to flourish under the management of Christophe Galtier.
However, the mid-season international break disrupted PSG’s momentum. Messi returned less than fully fit, and Neymar suffered a significant injury, leading to PSG’s early exit from the Champions League. Fans and critics pointed fingers, but Messi’s individual brilliance remained undeniable.
The Argument Against Haaland
Erling Haaland emerged as a strong contender for the 2023 Ballon d’Or after a stellar season with Manchester City. He broke records and played a crucial role in City’s treble-winning campaign. However, a closer look reveals that, unlike Messi, Haaland didn’t shine in the most critical moments. He struggled in the Champions League and FA Cup finals and often had minimal involvement in build-up play.
Messi, on the other hand, is a complete player who can change the course of a match with his vision, passing, and decision-making. He’s a playmaker and a goal-scorer, capable of carrying a team when it matters most. While Haaland’s goal-scoring prowess is undeniable, he lacks Messi’s all-around influence on the game.
The World Cup’s Weight in Ballon d’Or
Historically, a stellar World Cup performance has weighed heavily in Ballon d’Or voting. Legends like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, and Fabio Cannavaro received the award after leading their nations to World Cup victories. Even Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or despite losing in the World Cup final. Messi’s 2022 World Cup triumph aligns with this historical trend.
“Does the Ballon d’Or matter to me? No, it’s no longer important to me… the collective ones are the most important.” – Lionel Messi
Messi’s humility and focus on team success rather than individual accolades set him apart. He prioritizes collective achievements, making him a true team player. While the Ballon d’Or is an honor he’s received multiple times, it’s his commitment to the team’s success that defines him.
In conclusion, Lionel Messi’s remarkable 2022 World Cup triumph, coupled with his enduring excellence at the club level, cements his status as the most deserving candidate for the 2023 Ballon d’Or. His leadership, inspiration, and unmatched skill make him a true footballing legend. While Erling Haaland had a stellar season, Messi’s influence on the game goes beyond goal-scoring, and his humility and focus on team success make him a beacon of sportsmanship. The Ballon d’Or should rightfully return to the hands of the diminutive genius from Argentina.
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