Lionel Messi deserves to win the Ballon d’Or. Rumour has it that the Argentine has been told he will, even though the award ceremony won’t actually take place until Monday evening. Several voices have questioned whether he’s done enough to claim the prize given his relative lack of impact so far this season. He has.
Messi scored 30 goals in 36 La Liga appearances last term, despite playing for one of the worst Barcelona teams in recent memory under the now-sacked Ronald Koeman. His Barcelona was disjointed and lacked a clear identity, but with Messi at the centre they didn’t lack goals. It was thanks to the Argentine’s brilliance that they secured a third-placed finish, made it to the last 16 of the Champions League and won the Copa del Rey.
Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong were also key to victory in the latter, but it was Messi who was undoubtedly the central figure. In the final against Athletic Club at La Cartuja, he scored twice in the final 30 minutes and was named man-of-the-match. After the game, his teammates lined up one-by-one to get their photographs taken with him and the trophy. They knew it could be their last chance to do so, and so it came to pass.
Messi left Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer in the summer, but that was only the second most important thing that happened during the close-season for him. The most important event took place in Rio de Janeiro, at the Maracana. Messi led his beloved Argentina to victory in the final of the Copa America, beating their great rivals Brazil in the final. It was the first major title Argentina have won since 1993, and Messi was the best player in the tournament. He scored four goals and contributed five assists in 630 minutes of football.
Since joining PSG, Messi has failed to hit his stride. There’s been moments where he’s shone, but Mauricio Pochettino is still trying to figure out how to fit the 34-year-old, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe into the same team while maintaining a semblance of an organised defence. Messi has four goals and two assists to his name so far in ten appearances for the French club.
But looking at his calendar year in its entirety, the numbers back up the idea he deserves to be named the greatest player in the world for a seventh time. He ranks in at least the 90th percentile when compared to positional peers in non-penalty goals, npxG, shots, xA, npxG+A, shot-creating actions, passes attempted, pass completion, progressive passes, progressive carries and dribbles completed per 90 minutes.
The Ballon d’Or should be awarded based on two things – performance and achievement. Has the player in question performed at an elite level throughout the calendar year? Has the player in question contributed meaningfully to collective success? Messi has, and he’s done it with incomparable style. Even when you forget the numbers, the man’s ability to produce breathtaking moments is what truly sets him apart from the rest.
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