[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ionel Messi has done it again! Association Football’s greatest star has won the prestigious Ballon d’Or for the fifth time — a record that is to stay for some time. Breaking records and making history is nothing new to Lionel Messi. Before Monday’s gala ceremony in Zurich that marked the 60th edition of the elite and prestigious FIFA Ballon d’Or awards to officially determine the World Footballer of the Year, the diminutive Argentine already had 4 Ballon d’Or awards in his kitty, which was a record in itself. But this year sought a different issue to be settled.
After Kaka had won it for 2007, over the past 8 years the world of football witnessed a virtually uninterrupted Messi-Ronaldo duopoly of the FIFA Ballon d’Or that virtually left all other footballers out in the cold. With this year’s nomination shortlist comprising Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar, it was to be seen whether Messi could extend his tally to an unprecedented fifth time, or whether 3-time winner Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid would actually equal Messi’s record. An added intrigue was to see whether the young Brazilian Neymar, who shares the Barcelona forward line with Messi and has had an excellent season himself, would pip his senior club mate whom he idolises to mark his tryst with glory for the first time, thereby ending the uninterrupted Messi-Neymar show at the Ballon d’Or.
As it played out, the judges did not have any last-minute change-of-heart and rather went purely by the events and results of the football world of the past year.
To begin with, the year 2015 was all about Leo Messi and FC Barcelona. Anyone who takes even a casual interest in football will concur on that. Messi has led his club to as many as five titles this season. As the jubilant Barça fans have celebrated, their club has won the coveted treble in Spanish football — a combination of La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Champions League. Added to this, there has been the delightful European Super Cup title and a victory against River Plate in the final of the Club World Cup at the end of year, to serve as the perfect icing on the cake.
At the centre of these victories has been the lethal forward-line of Barcelona that Messi forms with Uruguayan goal machine Luis Suarez and Neymar. In the lead-up to the Ballon D’Or finalé, managers like Arsene Wenger and ex-superstars like Lothar Matthäus had already predicted him to win the Ballon d’Or for a record fifth time. His former Barcelona teammate Carles Puyol had gone on to the extent of stating that if Messi didn’t win, it would be a ‘grave injustice’. Even his Portuguese archrival and co-contender for the award had stated that although 2015 happened to be the best season in his own career, he expected Messi to get more votes from the jury and go on to win as Barça had won all the tournaments. The announcement during the award ceremony on the 11th was therefore, a mere formality to many of the fans and followers of the sport. Nevertheless, all eyes of the football world were on Zurich for the Monday-night gala.
In the end, it was the magician with the golden left foot reclaiming the official title of the greatest footballer of the world. Among others, the FIFA Women’s World Player award went to first time recipient Carli Lloyd for her role in helping the USA become world champions in Canada. Quite predictably, Barcelona coach Luis Enrique was chosen the FIFA World Coach of the Year for the amazing season Barça has had. Jill Ellis, coach of the US women’s football team, got the coaching award for women’s football. The Puskas award for best goal went to Brazilian Wendell Lira for his excellent scissor-kick goal playing for Atletico Goiniense.
The year 2015 has witnessed some terrific football all around the globe, but it certainly hasn’t been an exceptionally bright one for FIFA as an organisation. In a year riddled by scandals and controversies of global proportions that reached right up to the highest office of the world body of football, there have been accusations, police raids, arrests, court cases and global indictments. The culmination has ultimately resulted in FIFA President Sepp Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini both being barred by an ethics committee from holding any post in the organisation for 8 years. With the sport’s image having been thus sullied, the successful ceremony at Kongresshaus Zurich with fair and convincing decisions by the jury is likely to induce some fresh air and lift the general morale. Indeed, it is a positive event that a largely clean sportsman like Messi has won the World Player of the Year title.
Messi has been known for his legendary dribbling skills ever since his debut in professional football as a young player for Barcelona in 2004 after moving there from his native Rosario for treatment of his growth hormone deficiency syndrome. Football experts have also acknowledged that apart from his principal role of a goal scorer while playing in the forward line for his club and for Argentina, Messi has always been prolific is providing crucial assists to other strikers. This is one feature in his game that makes him a much more complete footballer than his worthy contemporaries like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema or Thomas Müller.
It has always been a pet peeve of fans in Argentina that Leo Messi hasn’t won his national side any trophy. That long-standing agony was almost healed in 2014, when Messi led Argentina to the final of the Brazil World Cup, only to be beaten 1-0 by the tremendously in-form Germany, who had thrashed hosts Brazil 7-1 in the semi-final. The sole goal for Germany was scored very late in that match, in the dying minutes of the 2nd half of Extra Time. The tragedy was repeated in 2015 when Argentina reached the final of the Copa America, only to be beaten by Chile on penalties. In both tournaments, however, Messi made significant contributions to his side’s performance throughout the tournament. All through his career he has been quite selfless in his game.
What peeves the Argentine fans more is perhaps that in contrast, his luck with Barcelona has been significantly brighter. Not only is he the highest ever goal scorer for Barça, having found the back of the net 459 times in their shirt, but also one of the greatest ever to have donned the jersey of the Spanish-Catalan club. In fact, Messi’s career has directly coincided with the rise and rise of Barcelona in the world stage of club football. Playing together with greats of Spanish football like Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol, the first decade of this century saw this Argentine teenager come of age and become an indispensable member of the invincible Barcelona side. The present Barcelona side boasts of the most fearsome striking line-up in the world consisting of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, nicknamed MSN by fans. Given all his success with their club, the Barça supporters don’t seem to mind that even after spending close to 15 years in Barcelona, he speaks Spanish most of the time and very little Catalan.
From leading his country to a World Cup final to leading his club to being the undisputed champions of the world, Messi has done it all. Now with this incredible fifth win of the coveted Ballon d’Or title, a record that doesn’t look to be broken or touched in the near future, he has very little to prove to anyone. Already the greatest player of his time, he is definitely one of the greatest of all time. Success at the highest level often changes the nature of a person. Not so with Messi. After more than a decade of professional football at the highest level during which he has touched the stars, Lionel Andrés Messi still remains the shy boy from Rosario who just wants to play football, more football.