Lionel Messi’s fourth Ballon d’Or confirms player’s legendary status
Lionel Messi's status as the planet's finest footballer was further cemented as he won Fifa's Ballon d'Or for an unprecedented fourth successive time.
It is to the eternal misfortune of his closest competitor, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, that he plays in the time of the great Argentine otherwise he would surely have claimed the coveted crown more than once.
Ronaldo and Messi's Barcelona team-mate Andres Iniesta - a Euro 2012 winner with Spain - were the other contenders and would be fitting and worthy winners in any era. This, however, is not any era - it is the Lionel Messi era.
The manner in which Messi has individually dominated the game's recent years is only emphasised by the fact that he has effectively made its highest individual honour his personal property.
And at the relatively tender age of 25, and with a recently agreed deal to
keep him at the Nou Camp until 2018,
he has power and talent to add to his unique collection of Ballon d'Or honours.
The latest coronation will also give fresh impetus to a debate that now rages with more intensity around Messi. Namely - is he the greatest to have played the game?
Most goals in a calendar year: 91
Most goals in a season: 68
Most goals in a European Cup season: 14 (jointly with Jose Altafini)
Most goals in a La Liga season: 50
Most La Liga hat-tricks in a season: 8
Most European Cup top scorer awards: 4 (with Gerd Mueller)
Most goals in a single European Cup game: 5
Most goals scored in Spanish Super Cup: 10
Most consecutive La Liga matches scored in: 10
Most goals in Club World Cup: 4 (held jointly with Denilson)
Barcelona's top goalscorer in all official competitions: 286
Barcelona's record goalscorer in Champions League: 56
Most La Liga hat-tricks: 15
He can justifiably take his place alongside other legends such as France's Michel Platini, who won three times in succession from 1983. Johann Cruyff won three times between 1971 and 1974 but his sequence was interrupted when Franz Beckenbauer won in 1972.
The argument is shaped by, and in, different generations. The game and players change, which makes the debate even more of an inexact science.
And of course, who is to say Pele or Maradona would not have emulated Messi's feat had they been eligible to win the Ballon d'Or? The award was created by France Football magazine in 1956 to honour the finest European player of the previous calendar year - non-Europeans were only eligible from 1997, a time way beyond that of Pele and Maradona.
Those who support the cases of Pele and Maradona instantly evoke their impact on the highest stage of all, the World Cup, a place where Messi has yet to deliver the brilliance he does on a weekly basis for Barcelona.
Pele's name burst into football's psyche as a 17-year-old when
Brazil won the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.
Injury curtailed his involvement when Brazil won again four years later and he was effectively kicked out of the tournament as an ageing team faded in England in 1966.
He suffered mixed fortunes around that triumph as he was sent off against Brazil in 1982 and sent home for
failing a drugs test in the United States in 1994.
These are events which have scarred his reputation but nothing can be stripped away from just how glorious, exciting and untamed his talent was.
There is still time for Messi to make one of those showpieces his own but his backers can press his claims by listing his consistent achievements in the Champions League, regarded by many as an even more challenging environment than the World Cup.
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