With the Ballon D’Or decided, it was in all honesty, never competed. Lionel Messi stands alone atop world football. In a season that saw Barcelona win just the Copa Del Rey, Messi hit a purple patch like nothing ever seen, ending the season with a world record 73 goals at club level.
The 25 year old ended the calendar year with a world record 91 goals. Never before seen and likely never to be seen done again. Unless the Argentinian fancies it again this year.
But for some, there still lies an almost dismissive attitude with regards to his achievements. Stalin famously said “the death of one man is a tragedy; the death of millions is a statistic.” Not to be melodramatic, but van Persie’s 37 goals in a season for Arsenal was incredible; Messi’s 91 goals for Barcelona is merely a statistic it seems. A figure so scarcely believable that all it can be is a statistic.
Never before has somebody made the extraordinary seem so ordinary. The cliché that seems to be doing the rounds at the minute is that, when a middling player scores a truly world class goal, if Messi had done that it would be raved about, when in fact the opposite is true. When Messi does the unexpected, it is entirely expected. Routine, even.
Three specific goals in Messi’s career illustrate this. Each time, he picks the ball up around the halfway line, muscling away from a defender who is almost hanging off of him. He bursts forward past one challenge, two challenges, then shifts direction. One more touch opens up the angle, and then the finish is unerring.
Most footballers never score a goal like that once, let alone do it three times. Three absolutely world class, unbelievable goals over a four year period, each a seminal moment in the story of Lionel Messi.
The first against Getafe in 2007 was an announcement. The little left-footed kid from Argentina piped up and introduced himself to the world. The great Diego Maradona, after numerous false dawns, finally had a worthy heir to his throne, as Messi slalomed away from challenge after challenge, storming through before rounding the keeper and finishing with his right foot. It is a truly incredible goal that sends shivers down the spine still. The Camp Nou rose to salute the boy wonder, while the world stood up to take notice.
The second was a statement. As the 2009/2010 season headed towards a chaotic climax, the narrative was almost just Messi vs Ronaldo. And time and time again, anything Ronaldo could do, Messi did, and did it better. Madrid stormed to 18 wins in their last 19 games, but the 19th game was against Barcelona and Messi. Messi scored as Barcelona won 2-0. Against Zaragoza, Messi muscled the ball away from the defender, beat four challenges and left one defender in particular with twisted blood, before slamming a finish into the bottom corner. The statement was clear. Messi was the best in the world.
The third is simply a calling card. In the never ending debate that is the discussion about the best players ever, Messi threw his name into the ring with this goal. With the duels spanning three competitions, Barcelona were reeling having lost the Copa del Rey to their fiercest rivals. To add to the story that is Messi’s career, his personal rival had been the one to score the winning goal. And yet again, Messi redoubled his efforts, scored one and then blew away Madrid with that stunner. In their own backyard. The catalyst to Barcelona’s barbaric season in Guardiola’s words, Messi had done it again.
An extraordinary player, scoring extraordinary goals at extraordinary times.
Numbers tell half the story, the moments explain the rest. In the words of Sid Lowe, he does things that would be as unbelievable as they are unique, but for one thing: he does them again and again and again. Never has one player been this good for this long. But yet again, words won't do him justice. As Guardiola said, “Don’t write about him, don’t try to describe him, watch him.”
Watch the Messi inspired 5-0 against Real Madrid, watch the Messi inspired 6-2 against Real Madrid, watch the glide through the air to head in the second against Manchester United in the Champions League final, watch the three against Brazil, the four against Arsenal, the five against Leverkusen.
Watch the extraordinary.
Watch the best ever.