Road to Ballon d’Or 2012: Lionel Messi

2012 was a hugely successful year for Lionel Messi as his incredible feat of 91 goals in a calendar year shattered Gerd Muller’s previous record of 85 in 1972.

Messi’s performance has only been improving with time, and he never fails to astound his fans with his undisputed talent. The Argentine’s amazing skills simply cannot be put in words. Football fans need only watch him for 5 minutes to recognize he possesses remarkable talent on the pitch.

The way he controls the ball, dodges pressure from the opposition, and then elegantly shoots the ball at the net continue to draw people such as myself right back to him. Even without the ball, I find Messi very interesting to watch, and every footballer, playing either recreationally or proffessionally, can learn at least something from how he plays the game.

I know for a fact that I and the rest of the football world continue to find ourselves dumbfounded as a result of his performances. No one can rival his talent.

Messi is Undeniabely the Best Footballer in the World

And that is exactly why he won his 4th consecutive Ballon d’Or, yet another record set by the Argentine. Messi became the 2012 FIFA Player of the Year over rivals Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta on Monday.

Barcelona have released a fascinating infographic of Messi’s unprecedented and record-setting 2012. Click on the image below to enlarge.

Lionel Messi's 2012

Messi clearly favored his left foot, but was almost equally as productive at home and away.

He scored the most goals against German side Bayern Leverkusen and La Liga squad Malaga, with a total of 6 versus each. Meanwhile, it didn’t come as a surprise that Iniesta made the assists for about 10% of Messi’s goals with Barcelona.

Here is what Gerd Muller said in response to Messi’s 91 goals:

“My record stood for 40 years - 85 goals in a year - and now the best player in the world has broken it, and I’m delighted for him. He is an incredible player, gigantic”

Messi had a great start to 2012, leading Barcelona to a 4-0 victory and scoring 2 times himself away against Osasuna on January 4th. By the end of the season, 25-year-old Messi recorded yet another 45 more goals for his club and country.

In March, Messi became the 1st player to score 5 times in a single Champions League game. The game, which was contested against Bayer Leverkusen, ended in a 7-1 victory for Barca. Before the end of the season, he managed to score hat-tricks against Granada and Espanyol.

His last goal of the season was a simple left-footed strike against Athletic Bilbao in the final of the Copa del Rey, which ended in a 4-0 win for Barca. Unfortunately for them, it was the only trophy they were awarded during that campaign.

Despite his enormous successes, Barcelona brought back few awards from the 2011-2012 season. Real Madrid edged Barca in their La Liga run by a margin of 9 points. Meanwhile, they were knocked out of the Champions League semifinals by Chelsea, who had eventually emerged winners.

Lionel MessiCristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have both had lots of ‘not doing much for their country’ criticism fired at them over the past couple of years. Portugal suffered defeat at the semi-finals of the Euro Cup against Spain, which ended in a 5-3 loss after penalties following a goalless game (Ronaldo consequently was set to take the last penalty but never got the chance).

But Messi has being doing ‘more’ for Argentina in the past year than anyone has for their country, and the criticism seems to be receding. June of last year saw Argentina take on Brazil in a friendly match, in which Messi completed a fantastic hat-trick and sealed a 5-4 victory.

In addition to Brazil, Argentina cruised past Germany and Ecuador during the summer months before the start of the 2012-13 season.

Even with the change in managers, Messi blossomed under Tito Vilanova’s leadership after Pep Guardiola decided to take a brief break from coaching football. By the end of August, Messi already scored 6 times for his club.

Ever since then, Messi has been a goal-scoring machine. Messi netted 35 goals in 26 appearances in all of Barcelona’s competitions before 2013, adding up to a grand total of 91 in 2012.

In the October Clasico versus Real Madrid, Messi striked twice to secure a 2-2 draw in the La Liga match-up at home. Aside from that game, Barcelona has gained the maximum 3 points from all their La Liga opponents in the current season. They currently have 17 wins and 1 draw from their 18 matches in the Spanish League, the best start a team has ever had to La Liga. They currently stand in 1st on the table, 11 points clear of Atletico Madrid and 16 points ahead of Real Madrid.

Unsurprisingly though, Messi has had a fairly decent start to 2013 as well. He contributed 1 goal to Barca’s 4-0 victory against Espanyol, while he watched from the bench as they cruised past Cordoba in the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Now, the biggest contender to breaking his newly-set record of 91 goals in a calendar year is Messi himself. I still believe his peak has not yet come, and he can only continue to improve with time.