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.

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Messi Wins 4th Successive Ballon d’Or Ahead of Ronaldo and Iniesta

Argentina and Barcelona striker Lionel Messi was awarded his 4th consecutive Ballon d’Or at a ceremony held in Zurich, Switzerland on Monday.

Messi Wins Ballon d'OrMessi crushed the world record last year, scoring 91 goals for his country and his club in a single year. Those goals broke Gerd Muller’s long-standing record of 85 goals for Bayern Munich and Germany in 1972, making the Argentine the clear favorite to win the award after such a successful season. Of those 91, Messi scored 79 for Barca and another 12 for Argentina in a total of 69 games in 2012.

But despite all of his goals, Barcelona did not have a very successful season. They conceded La Liga to arch-rivals Real Madrid by a margin of 9 points, and lost to Chelsea in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

Messi was part of the 3-man shortlist selected to be voted on for the prize. The other two players contending for the Ballon d’Or were his Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta and Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo. National coaches and captains as well as selected media cast their votes for who they felt was best suited for the award.

The final results polled:

  1. Lionel Messi-41.60%
  2. Cristiano Ronaldo-23.68%
  3. Andres Iniesta-10.91%

Messi became the first player to win the FIFA Player of the Year Award 4 times in a row. With 3 titles, Messi was previously tied with former France international striker, and now UEFA president, Michel Platini. Now that he has surpassed that benchmark, it can now be confidently said that Messi is the best footballer in the world.

At a news conference following the results, Messi said:

“To tell you the truth this is really quite unbelievable. The fourth award that I have had is just too great for words.”

“I would like to recognize my other colleagues from Barcelona. Andres, it has been great to train and play alongside you.”

“I would also like to recognize all of my friends in the Argentina national team, everyone that has worked with me, coaches and staff and my family and my friends. Also my wife and my son. Thank you.”

Meanwhile, a slightly downcast Ronaldo congratulated Messi with the award:

“Whether I win or not it doesn’t matter, it’s a privilege to be here.”

Messi Wins Ballon d'OrBut in case you have forgotten, Ronaldo had also won the Ballon d’Or. The Portuguese was named FIFA Player of the Year once before, seemingly decades ago in 2008, before Messi’s prime. He wore a New York Yankees cap to the pre-gala conference in which he participated.

In the meantime, US international Abby Wambach was named FIFA Women’s Player of the Year. Also, Spain coach Vicente del Bosque and US Women’s coach Pia Sundhage were both given the coach accolades after leading their teams to a Euro Cup and Olympic victory, respectively.

Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho and former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola finished behind del Bousque. At the news conference, Guardiola confirmed that he plans to resume coaching at the start of next season.

Uzbekistan won the fair play award for their outstanding disciplinary record, while Franz Beckenbauer won the FIFA presidential award.

The World XI All-Star team, which was chosen by FIFPro group of players’ unions, was made up completely of players contesting in Spain’s La Liga. All 3 contestants for the Ballon d’Or were on that list, while the other 8 consisted of players from Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid.

The goalkeeper was none other than Real Madrid’s Iker Casillas, accompanied by teammates Sergio Ramos and Marcelo as well as Barcelona’s Dani Alves and Gerard Pique who all made up the defense. Iniesta stood alongside teammate Xavi Hernandez and Real’s Xabi Alonso in the midfield. Messi led the attack, with Ronaldo and Atletico’s Radamel Falcao at his sides.

The team saw little change from the one created in 2011, with the only changes being Marcelo and Falcao for Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney.