5 time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi is having one of his best seasons ever. After what was a record breaking last season in which Barcelona won an unprecedented second treble, thus becoming the only club to ever do so, people would have expected the best player in the world to slow down. But the hunger and passion to win and do well for his team drives this beast forward now more than ever.
He recently became the first player ever to score 20+ goals in 8 seasons of La Liga. He is also the top scorer and assister of La Liga and also 7 goals shy of becoming the all time top scorer for Argentina. So it is quite natural to ask oneself if he is the best player ever.
If one looks closely at the career graph of the diminutive Argentine, it can be easily ascertained that he has transitioned seamlessly into whatever roles he has been assigned so far by his coaches. Let me elaborate this a bit further.
Suffering from growth hormone deficiency, he moved to Barcelona at the age of 13 as clubs from his home country couldn’t afford the high treatment costs. But due to his insane talent, a Barca scout spotted him and offered him a chance to play for the Catalan giants. And then something happened which is part of popular folklore. Carles Rexach, then first team director was forced by Messi’s father to sign his son or they would have left the city. Under pressure, Rexach signed Messi on a piece of napkin with no paper at hand. And so the fairytale began.
He was a part of the greatest youth side Barcelona ever produced and won a treble in his very first season. He was the top scorer with 36 goals in 30 games and at the same time his friendship with Cesc Fabregas and Gerard Pique began. During the 2003-04 season he debuted for a record five teams and during his first training session with the first team, Ronaldinho, then the best player in the world remarked the 16-year old would become a better player than himself.
Messi started as a right winger under Dutchman Frank Rijkaard who recognised the youngster’s talent and soon Ronaldinho Gaucho took him under his tutelage and helped him develop both as a player and person. The 18-year old was rising in the ranks and was catching the attention of managers from all over the world. Arsenal offered to buy him but Messi rejected all offers to stay at his beloved club.
At the age of just 19, he scored a hattrick against fierce rivals Real Madrid and scored a Maradonaesque goal against Getafe in a Spanish Cup match. However after two trophyless seasons, Rijkaard was sacked and club legend Pep Guardiola was appointed the manager. Pep decided to build his team around his young protégée and players like Ronaldinho and Deco were sold.
With Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o, Messi formed a formidable front three which would later be rivalled by the fabled MSN. Xavi and Iniesta were the other cornerstones of the Tiki Taka philosophy which awed the world over. And this team created history by winning the sextuple — all six trophies the team participated in.
Under Guardiola Messi played in the “False 9” role, a typical mix of a centre forward and an attacking midfielder. He roamed the centre of the pitch, created spaces, and scored goals at will. Thus in 2010 he won the Ballon d’Or and the Fifa Player of the Year with record margins.
Within 4 years under Pep, the team won 15 trophies in total in what was the best time in Barca’s illustrious history. Next season under Tito Vilanova Messi scored a world record 91 goals in 2012, breaking Gerd Muller’s record of 85 goals.
After a disappointing season under Tata Martino which was plagued by injuries, Luis Enrique was appointed the task of fixing the problems of the club. With Luis Suárez as the striker, Messi moved on to the wings again and had the best season of his career. Perhaps his goals against Bayern Munich in the semi finals of the UEFA Champions League and his solo goal in the Copa Del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao will be remembered for a long time.
Under Enrique Messi plays more in the midfield creating chances for his teammates. He is now a playmaker of the highest calibre and his passes rival that of the best midfielders in the world. Whereas his rival Cristiano Ronaldo is more of a poacher type, Messi creates, scores as well as set up goals for his teammates. Currently the best free kick taker in the world, Messi is the perfect modern day footballer.
What he lacks in height, he more than makes up for it with sheer grit and determination. He has the most successful dribbles in world football in the last decade and he continues on and on without ever stopping.
And the best thing that fans of the best player are proud of is his selflessness. He doesn’t care for records and is only motivated to do well for the team. This season he has passed the chance to score a hattrick and instead let Neymar or Suárez take the penalty on four occasions. Hardly the signs of someone selfish.
The only thing missing from the Messi cabinet is the World Cup. He came so close to winning it in 2014 but lost to Germany in the finals. The very next year the same team lost to Chile on penalties in the Copa America finals. Thus success on the International Front eludes him. However Messi has won an Olympic gold and won a under-19 WC with his national team.
With close to 500 goals in official games, he is the second highest goalscorer of this century. Some of the records he may break in his lifetime may be the record for highest goal for a single club, highest goals in Europe’s top-5 Leagues and Champions League all time top assists.
Just 28 years old, there is plenty of football to be seen from the Argentine maestro. With a total of 26 trophies under his belt already, he will be looking to add to that tally each year. With most of the modern day records under his belt, it is no longer a question of if but a matter of when he is labelled the greatest of all time. Legends like Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Henry and a host of others consider him as the best of the generation whereas Jorge Sampaoli recently said anyone who doesn’t recognise Messi as the best is a fool.
Well let us not go that far as yet. After all every generation has a few players who can claim to be among the best. Cristiano Ronaldo, Andres Iniesta, Zlatan Ibrahimović are some of the greatest players of this era and deserve as much praise as anybody else.
But a question is always bound to arise in the minds of all football fans. Who is the greatest? And is Lionel Messi the answer to that question? Do have your say.