Respect for Messi holds off rising stars to individual awards

Respect for messi holds off rising stars to individual awards0

Lionel Messi may have departed the spotlight of European football, but he remains a magnet for the game’s most prestigious honors, having been named FIFA’s best men’s player for 2023 on Monday.

The 36-year-old’s pick over Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe was a contentious one in the year Messi joined Inter Miami in Major League Soccer, which many saw as a step down in level.

Nonetheless, Messi’s magnetic draw was on display last year as he rapidly dominated the United States.

By capturing the Leagues Cup in August, the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner led a previously struggling side to the franchise’s first title, which is co-owned by David Beckham.

Prior to departing Europe, he won another league championship with Paris Saint-Germain, but his last few months in the French capital were far from easy.

Messi was booed by the PSG fans and even punished by the club for an unapproved travel to Saudi Arabia to fulfill business engagements.

This gave the impression that he was a genius in decline, but one whose peak was perhaps greater than anybody before him.

If Haaland feels betrayed after scoring 52 goals and winning the treble in his first season at Manchester City, he simply has to listen to his boss.

Pep Guardiola was named coach of the year at FIFA’s awards event in London after orchestrating City’s Champions League, Premier League, and FA Cup triumphs last season.

Guardiola is well aware of Messi, the generational great he was fortunate to watch up close during his four years as Barcelona manager.

“I’ve always said that the Ballon d’Or should be divided into two sections, one for Messi and the other for Haaland,” Guardiola remarked ahead of the Ballon d’Or presentation in October.

“We won the treble because he scored 50 million goals but of course Messi…the worst season for Messi is the best for the rest of the players.”

The little guy brought to Catalonia from Rosario became a modern-day Goliath by scoring 672 goals in 778 games for Barcelona.

A dashing, somewhat injury-prone young winger who required Barcelona to pay for growth hormone therapy as a teenager became a deadly ‘false nine’, lethal free-kick taker, and subsequently the ultimate playmaker.

He even soared to score a stunning header against Manchester United in the Champions League final, one of four times he won Europe with Barcelona.

With the Catalan giants, he also won 10 La Liga championships, seven Copas del Rey, and three Club World Cups.

The most important award, however, took the longest to come.

For years, Messi grappled with the pressure of leading his nation to victory, like Diego Maradona did for Argentina in 1986.

Messi had four chances on the world stage, ranging from brief outings as a wonder youngster in 2006 to a painful final loss to Germany in 2014.

When a youthful Mbappe ran riot to deliver France a 4-3 victory over La Albiceleste in 2018, it looked like a baton was being passed in football’s global hierarchy.

Nonetheless, Messi overcame father time and Mbappe’s talent in the 2022 World Cup final, when the two faced off in probably the greatest World Cup game ever.

In a thrilling 3-3 draw in Doha, Mbappe scored three times to Messi’s two, but Argentina won on penalties to ultimately enable Messi to follow in Maradona’s footsteps.

The new generation of superstars is on the way, lead by Mbappe, Haaland, and Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham and Vinicius Junior, but the love for Messi among players, fans, and media has made them to wait another year for the major individual prizes.

more insights