He may no longer be No.1, but it's far from the end of Leo Messi's career: as FFT's Andrew Murray notes, 2014 could be his zenith
I can understand why Cristiano Ronaldo sits atop FFT's 100 best players in the world list. The Portuguese has had an amazing 2013, scoring unfathomable goals with apparent ease and has been the standout individual talent. Yet for all his brilliance, something still eluded CR7 this year: a trophy. As barometers go, silverware is as good as any.
Lionel Messi was an omnipresent orchestrator as Barcelona strolled to a fourth La Liga title in five years. He was the league's Pichichi (again), scoring his 46 goals at a quicker rate (1.43 per game) than the barely credible 50 he managed in 2011-12.
Those 46 goals also won him the European Golden Shoe, again, for the third year in four - making him the only player ever to get a hat-trick of wins in the continental goalscoring trophy. And people say he's lost it?
No chance. Yes, 2013 has brought three separate injuries, but Messi is still only 26. He's entering his peak. He scored eight goals in his first six league games this season and a record fourth Champions League hat-trick against Ajax.
Messi was about 25% fit against when he came off the bench to rescue Barça in the Champions League quarter-final against PSG, yet he still definitively changed the tie's complexion with a jinking run for Pedro's deciding equaliser. Barça may have been humbled by Bayern Munich in the last four – but if that was a nadir, it means the only way is up, especially regarding Messi's state of fitness.
No longer will they patch the little Flea up and hope he dances. When the hamstring twanged again at Real Betis in early November, the club told him to get properly fit, so he can face the latter stages of Europe injury-free.
He's the most naturally gifted footballer since Maradona and I have a sneaking feeling he might just show it next year and win the one trophy that's missing to consecrate his true greatness.
Lionel Messi, World Cup winner: now that has a certain ring to it.
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