FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: No.2 – Lionel Messi

Martin Mazur casts an eye over the Argentine's year for club and country…

Despite suffering two muscle injuries, losing the Copa America Centenario final with a penalty sent over the bar and announcing his international retirement (before later reconsidering), Lionel Messi has every reason to be happy: his 2016 was the coronation of the modern Messi, the player we'll all enjoy in the years ahead.

Discussions over whether an ageing and slower Messi would become a static centre-forward or a classic No.10 have taken place for the past decade, with opinions divided. But 12 years after making his professional debut for Barcelona, Messi's now unlocked a different 3.0 version of himself.

From a right-wing dribbler (1.0) to a devastating penalty-box scorer (2.0), Messi's now became a strategist, capable of deciding when to score but also when to assist, when to be close to the box and when to enjoy the full-pitch panorama. Since the introduction of Barcelona’s current trident, which includes an out-and-out striker in Luis Suarez, Messi’s involvement in the build-up has been more active than ever before.

All-round attacker

He's also excelled when it comes to playing through-balls, thanks in part to the movement of Suarez and Neymar

His free-kick technique has improved - witness his stunning strike against the United States - with Messi enjoying his most prolific year from set-pieces. 

He's also excelled when it comes to playing through-balls, a skill he's been able to practice regularly at club level thanks to the movement of Suarez and Neymar. It's been a different story at international level, though, with Messi forced to carry Argentina due to underperformance from his attacking team-mates.

“You don’t win in chess with a Queen but no Rooks, or Bishops, or Pawns, or Knights. Argentina doesn’t get it yet,” El Grafico wrote earlier this year. “Messi’s challenge: how to defend the country with a plastic fork and a plastic knife” was the headline chosen by newspaper La Nacion.

National team pain

The modern Messi has become a leader, too, as demonstrated by his recent decision to lead his international team-mates in a boycott of the Argentine press

The disappointment at losing another final with Argentina brought about a change in Messi's appearance, who died his hair blonde and grew a beard. He later admitted that this was a way of him starting over and resetting ahead of the 2016/17 campaign, where he's dragged his country back into contention in World Cup qualifying.

The modern Messi has become a leader, too, as demonstrated by his recent decision to lead his international team-mates in a boycott of the Argentine press. 

The 29-year-old will probably end 2016 as Europe's top scorer and leading assist provider, which shows how influential he's been. This is a different Messi now, but that doesn't mean he isn't equally brilliant.

Vote for your favourite player of 2016 at ForzaFootball here. We'll reveal the results next week.

The list

FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016