Messi wants Ronaldo's La Liga crown

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Barcelona striker Lionel Messi broke too many individual records to count last season - but the trophies, the things that really count after all, proved elusive.

Aside from the Copa Del Rey, Barcelona failed to defend either their La Liga title, or their Champions League trophy. Such failures weigh heavily upon the shoulders of the world's best player, playing on arguably one of the world's best ever teams, but while Barcelona's performances dipped as a collective, individually, Messi continued to sparkle.

The Argentinian can never be accused of being a selfish player - his long, mazy dribbles may be indulged by his Barca teammates, but only because more often than not they result in goalscoring opportunities.

And his record-breaking goals tally is testament to his ability, rather than to any latent ball-hogging streak. As often as Messi finds the net, he will make the killer pass, commit the hesitant defender or draw the foul, actions that inevitably result in a celebrating teammate.

Which makes last season - despite the goals, the individual achievement and the personal glory - a massive disappointment.

The Catalan side were comfortably Spain's second best team, but such a tag is unacceptable for a side containing Messi, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta. The fact that Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi's chief rival, led by Jose Mourinho, Barcelona's arch nemesis, beat them to the title exaggerated the pain.

But, fortunately for Barcelona and Messi, football swiftly gives you the opportunity to atone. The first El Clasico of the season, the Supercup, is less than a month away, and the first of the La Liga season takes place in early October.

Messi's goalscoring record largely reads as a list of records broken. Just the highlights from last season include the most goals in a single season - 73, most goals in a La Liga season - 50, most Champions League goals - 14, most La Liga hat-tricks - 8, and Barcelona's new record goalscorer - still aged just 25 - with 253 goals.

But he's the first to admit that he can still improve, the first to admit that last season, without a league title, was a disappointment.

"I'm not looking to beat my tally of goals, that is not my objective," said Messi. "I want to try and develop as a player and to give more to the team. I hope I still have margin to continue improving. My objective is to win more titles."

Whether it is even possible to improve upon a 73-goal season is debatable. The more you consider the Argentinian's achievements the greater they seem to become.

But, rightly, Messi points out the ultimate achievement in a team sport, is a victory that can be shared with teammates.

The return to fitness of David Villa is important, and Messi admits that he hopes the Spaniard "can return to his performances levels he was producing before the injury."

Such hopes betray fears that, aged 30, and coming off the back of a serious injury, Villa might not be the player he once was. For Barca to challenge Real's dominance next season they will need a fully fit and firing Villa, especially if Sanchez again fails to nail down a place, and Barca decide against strengthening in the transfer market.

Add in the fact that Pep Guardiola, architect of Barcelona's recent truimphs, has left the club, and the Catalans could easily fall into the trap of a trophyless "transitional" season. But, with Tito Vilanova - Guardiola's number two - at the helm, Messi is confident the transition will be seamless.

"Tito helped me improve a great deal when I was younger," said Messi. "I never imagined I would run into him again in the first division, but I am very pleased to have him here."

In private battles with Ronaldo, and in public battles with Real Madrid and the rest of Europe, Messi has always come out on top. Not since a 21-year-old Messi was beaten by Madrid in the 2007-08 season, has the Argentinian finished second in Spain.

This season will be his biggest test - the greatest examination of his claim to be the world's best player. A similar goal return would be nice, another league title would be nicer.

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