Before I begin my case for why Lionel Messi should win the Ballon d'Or for a fourth year in a row, it is worth dispelling a few notions about the award itself. It does not exist to award the player that has won the most trophies in a year – if it did, then Fernando Torres would be this year’s favourite.
Nor does it exist to recognise the achievements of a team – despite what some sections of the Spanish media think. The Ballon d’Or exists purely and simply to acknowledge the player that has performed the best throughout the year – nothing more, nothing less. And under that criteria, there can only be one winner.
Messi began 2012 as he meant to go on, by scoring a double against Osasuna in the Copa del Rey, the first of a record-breaking 91 goals in 12 months. His final goal of the year – against Valladolid – was noteworthy because it was the only time in season 2012-13 that he had scored just once. Before then, he either scored twice or more, or didn’t bother at all.
Indeed, while Messi may not have won the League or the Champions League in 2012, he achieved something even more remarkable – he made the goalscoring tallies of great players, past and present, look pathetic.
It was not long ago that finding the net once every two games was something to be proud of, but now not even scoring in every match would be enough to compete with La Pulga, who managed 1.3 goals per game over the year. So far in 2012-13 he has scored twice as many League goals as Premier League leading scorers Robin Van Persie and Michu, and has scored more goals by himself than 15 entire teams in the Spanish League.
But why stop at goals? Messi was the second top provider of assists last season, and has already created seven goals for his teammates this term. He does not just contribute to Barca’s attacking flair either, as Tito Vilanvova pointed out after Barcelona's 5-0 win over Rayo Vallecano in October, in which Messi got a now customary brace.
“We are happy for Leo, he scored goals, but a moment in the 89th minute made the most impression on me – he raced back 30 metres to help us out defensively. I love his goals, but I loved seeing him do that even more,” enthused the Coach.
Some have argued Messi did not deliver in Barcelona’s most important games of the year, in both legs of the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea and the decisive League match against Real Madrid in the Camp Nou in April, but these are the few exceptions that prove the rule, and no player, not even Messi, can score in and win every single game they play.
Another criticism is that he scores so many because he plays in an uncompetitive League, but it is the same League in which all three Ballon d’Or finalists for the past four years have plied their trade.
Messi’s detractors also no longer have their most-oft used weapon – his occasionally disappointing form for his country. In 2012 Messi won over even the most critical of his compatriots with his performances for Argentina, scoring 12 goals in nine games, including a sensational last-minute winner against hated rivals Brazil in the summer.
After Messi won the Ballon d’Or last year for the third consecutive year to draw level with Marco van Basten, Michel Platini and Johan Cruyff, few would have imagined he could get any better, but he has upped his game yet again and now has a real possibility of becoming the only player ever to win the award four times.
Praising Messi is now so commonplace it has become a cliché, but as Vilanova, who has been working with him for over four years, has pointed out, all you need to do is watch him play.
“I am not running a campaign for Messi [to win the Ballon d’Or], people can see for themselves what he does everyday,” said the Coach after Messi’s hat-trick against Deportivo in October. “No other player can do what he does.”