Barcelona FC, the team of the titillating tiki-taka style and a cabinet full of silverware, found itself in an unfamiliar position in a March match. The Spanish giants faced a 2-0 deficit after the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16 clash against AC Milan. For most teams, that would be an insurmountable hill, but those teams don’t have Lionel Messi.
In the fifth minute, the Argentine forward latched on to a pinged pass from Xavi, cushioned it with the outside of his left foot and arched an unstoppable strike from 20 yards into the top left corner. AC Milan Goalkeeper Christian Abbiati stood frozen, resigned and in awe.
In the 40th minute it was Messi again, bagging a brace from nearly the same spot. This time the world’s greatest player collected a dazzling diagonal ball from Andrès Iniesta, touched it with a luscious left and drove it across the grass. The ball traveled through the legs of desperate, diving defender Philippe Mexès, into the bottom right, inches inside the post.
The performance led one pundit to pose the prompt, “Lionel Messi is better at soccer than anyone else is at anything. Discuss.”
It’s difficult to disagree.
Barca Assistant Coach Jordi Roura dubbed the dominance on that Camp Nou night, “magisterial,” a word reserved for the likes of Messi. Still, the performance was just a microcosm of a glittering, still-blooming career.
Name a record and it’s most likely Messi’s: most goals in a club season, most hat-tricks in a La Liga campaign, most goals for Argentina in a year, etc.
The 26-year-old talisman is already the all-time leading goalscorer in Barca’s decorated history with 313 strikes in 373 matches. In 2012, he scored 91 goals in 69 games, never-before accomplished in a calendar year. Almost unthinkably, he netted two goals or more in eight straight contests.
He has won the last four Ballon d’Or (Golden Ball) awards, given annually to the planet’s finest footballer. He’s the first to accomplish that feat.
As club teammate Dani Alves put simply, “For as long as Messi is around, the Ballon d’Or makes no sense.”
Is Messi the best in the world? How long will he stay at the top?