Many argued after Lionel Messi won his record-breaking sixth Ballon d'Or at Paris on Monday that if he deserved it in 2019. Virgil Van Dijk was a strong competitor with his Champions League winners medal, but Messi somehow managed to top the Dutch by seven points.
But still, the question remains, did Messi really deserve it this time around? For starters, it is an underachievement for the dazzling Argentine that he has won only six.
The incredible genius
Since his debut against Porto in 2003, Messi has dazzled the world with his magic. He scores, he assists, he dribbles through the defences, he scores mesmerizing free-kicks, humiliates the opponent etcetera. And as time has passed by, he has started to take control of the game all by himself. If you have closely watched Barcelona in the last couple of years, you will notice that an ordinary match from Messi leads to Barcelona losing points.
Coming to the point of ordinary games, Messi has set such a high bar for his performances that it is sometimes tough for even himself to match it. Every time he plays below his super-high level, he is considered to be a flop. And the standards set by himself has seen him being underappreciated even when he has been at a level above anybody else. For example, the goal for which Mohamed Salah won the Puskas award last year, is something Messi does on a regular basis. For further debate, if someone else played like Messi did against Borussia Dortmund or Atletico Madrid, he would have been considered as a celestial for his scintillating display. But just because it was Lionel Messi, it was considered to be a walk in the park.
When you look at Messi's performances in the seasons he did not win the Ballon d'Or, you will realise how Messi has made the extraordinary look ordinary. Messi managed to contribute directly in more than 50 goals in each of the last 10 seasons, even contributing to a whopping 102 goals in the 2011-12 season with 73 goals and 29 assists. Anyone who contributes more than 50 goals in a season is called phenomenal, and Messi has been doing it with unmatched consistency. Luka Modric managed to win a Ballon d'Or for taking Croatia to the World Cup final and winning the Golden Ball, but when Messi had done the same years four years back, he was denied of it because Lionel Messi has set the bar to a height which almost touches the sky.
The numbers are not all to look at
Even with the stats kept aside, Messi reigns supreme. He is as prolific a goalscorer as it gets, he can create goals out of nowhere, he can pass it like a midfielder and tracks back every time he looses the ball. Free-kicks were considered to be something he was bad (it should be 'not Messi-esque) at, but with time, he has turned himself into the Messi of free-kicks. His height surely gives him an advantage during dribbling to maintain his balance, but remember, that also rules him out from beating defenders aerially. And if you really consider something he can not do, you are welcome to watch the final of the 2009 Champions League.
Zlatan once said, "He (Messi) only uses his left foot and he's still the best in the world. Imagine if he also used his right, then we'd have serious problems!" Radamel Falcao once termed Messi as a PlayStation character and the number of football experts who have claimed Messi to be the greatest ever is uncountable. Miguel Delaney, the chief football writer of The Independent did not just stop at calling Messi the best ever, he wrote that Messi was football.
The magnitude of his genius
Despite all these, Messi's greatness lies somewhere else. His greatness is not in his stupefying dribbles or his precise finishes, nor in his brilliantly pinpointed free-kicks or the long balls he produces to unlock space. Lionel Messi's greatness lies in how simple he makes them look.
Messi's goal vs Atletico Madrid looked nothing extraordinary. Well, Messi had taken the ball from Frenkie De Jong near to the half-line than the goal, went past defenders, put together a neat one-two with Luis Suarez and then beat one of the best goalkeepers of the current time in Jan Oblak to score. But still, it looked so simple to the eye, as if it was a training drill. Atletico manager Diego Simeone gave a 'What can we do against this' reaction to the goal and that is exactly where the little Argentine's greatness lies.
He does something absolutely out of the world and makes it look like a regular sight on the football field. Messi is the apex of simplicity in football, and there's nobody who can match him.
Johan Cruyff once said Messi would finish as the winner of the highest number of Ballon d'Or's in football history, and with his sixth Messi has taken his stride towards that. But still, Messi is an underachiever. He could have won 10, but did not.
And if you still have any doubts about Messi winning his sixth, then just take a look at the final Top 30 of the Ballon d'Or. Van Dijk had six of his teammates in the Top 30 whereas Messi only had his goalkeeper, Marc Andre Ter Stegen there. Messi was a literal one-man army in the season ended in May and he must not be blamed for his team's failure. After all of Messi's geniuses, football, in the end, is a team game and one man is never enough.
So, when you question Messi winning his sixth, another question comes back at you, which is: has Messi won less than he deserves? And the answer is up to you. If you want to stay in denial, you can. But then comes the big question.
Will Lionel Messi's genius let you?