Lionel Messi won the Ballon D’or for a record-breaking sixth time earlier this week. This historic feat firmly put the little magician back on the summit of the footballing world, a peak which he had shared with his arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo for the past two years with five awards each. Messi got up from his chair, went on stage, received the award from Luka Modric before proceeding to address the crowd with a speech. While he conveyed his gratitude to his family, teammates and loved ones by thanking them, I came to the realisation it is we, the fans who should be thanking him for everything he has done for us. Just think about it. How many times have his skills left you caught in a trance? How many times did his match-winning goal made your day? Now, I have always been a Ronaldo fanboy, but as I grew older, I slowly learned to admire and appreciate Messi more. And although I should be a bit salty about his victory, his greatness is just too intense to ignore. He is indeed the greatest ever, and his achievements deserve all the plaudits in the world.
The numbers behind the man
Barcelona did not have the most successful 18-19 campaign, but Messi was still instrumental in whatever success they achieved. The diminutive Argentine captained his side to a third successive La Liga title. He also claimed his sixth Pichichi trophy as the top scorer of La Liga with 36 goals in 34 matches which included the all-important winner against a 1-0 victory over Levante that secured the title for them. Even though Barcelona did not manage to find success outside of the domestic league, Messi still finished the season with 46 goals and 17 assists in 54 appearances across all competitions. This included seven braces and three hattricks. Last month Messi celebrated his 34th La Liga hattrick (joint-most in the league), and his goal against Dortmund in the Champions League made him the first player in history to score against 34 different teams in the competition. So, even with his career slowly nearing its twilight, Messi is still as omnipresent and influential on the pitch for Barcelona as he was a decade ago when he won his first Ballon D’or.
As impressive as the stats above are, the fact of the matter is that numbers fail to adequately describe what the man means to the game and indeed to football fans. Think of all the innumerable moments of magic Messi has produced over the last 16 years. Think of how many times his performances have brought a smile to our faces or brought joy into our lives and brightened mundane days. They say football is passion in its purest form and Messi embodies that passion. He has made countless people fall in love with the game be it through his magic touch or the ease at which he gets past players or through his sublime finishes and freekicks. Whenever Messi has the ball, you know that something extraordinary will happen. He is an absolute wizard, a joy to watch and even at 32, the man is still lighting up the pitch. However, we must face reality and accept the fact that we will not get to witness this greatness forever. Messi’s career will eventually run its course, and there will come a day where we will no longer get to watch Messi or his magic. And the truth is that regardless of how many great footballers come after him, none would be able to emanate the same level of enchantment as he did. So let’s cherish him while we still can. Here’s to Lionel Messi, a once in a lifetime footballer.