The Soccer Whiz: Mercurial Messi still number one

Mercurial Messi still number one

PEP Guardiola once famously remarked that “There there should be two Ballon d’Ors, one for Leo Messi and another for the rest!”

On Monday October 30, the open secret is that Lionel Messi will claim yet another Ballon d’Or and confirm his status as the greatest footballer of all time.

He will have justified his latest and eighth crown on the basis of the most dominant individual performance at a World Cup since his own compatriot, the late great Diego Maradona single handedly (he swears he also got a hand from God!) lifted Argentina to the title in 1986.

Messi’s victory is fully deserved with most observers and followers of the game overjoyed that Messi was able to finally lift football’s greatest prize after coming agonisingly close in 2014, even if his success at the Qatar World Cup does at this juncture, seem like an eternity ago.

To be honest even now when you see him strutting out with such panache for Argentina in the World Cup qualifiers, it’s  hard to believe that there’s anyone out there who matches his extraordinary ability.

I personally still rank him as the number one player in the world, a position I believe that has comfortably been his own for the last fifteen years.

It’s a testament to the glittering career of the Argentine legend that he is still ahead of the chasing pack at such a golden age but 2023 is without a shadow of doubt, the last time the aging Lionel Messi is crowned as the leading footballer in the world.

Alex Ferguson once said “that when it goes, it goes quickly, and there’s nothing at all you can do it about it!”

This rings true even for the greats of the game and will realistically happen to Messi too.

Who though will fill these mercurial messy boots? For a number of years, the kid touted most likely to make that breakthrough and win the coveted prize after the duopoly of Messi and CR7 had ended, was Kylian Mbappe.

Since emerging on the scene as a fresh faced seventeen year old at Monaco, it’s been apparent that this was a crown preordained for him and one that we all expected him to attain.

That transition has happened slower than any of us expected though, due to the unprecedented longevity of Lionel Messi.

It’s fair to say that purely on ability, Mbappe has no equal in the modern game.

He is the most exciting, dynamic and skilful forward in world football right now. He is and has for sometime now been a major star, the leading light in the French League,and a World Cup winner(it could so easily have read double World Cup winner!).

Mbappe has been on the verge of a career catapulting changing move to Real for a couple of seasons now, but for reasons best known to himself, has scampered the real deal at the last minute.

He’s supposedly destined once more for Madrid at the end of this season in a move that will help to ensure that enough of the spotlight falls on him and is not shared with the blonde Viking hulk at Manchester.

Erling Haaland has been terrorizing defences in the EPL for a season and a bit now. As a member of an abject, limited Norwegian national side, he’s unlikely to be winning any cups with them which unfortunately will always tilt votes away from him (especially in a Euro or World Cup year.).

It’s the reason why despite having broken every conceivable EPL scoring record and lifted the treble with Manchester City including bringing home at last the elusive Champions League trophy, the majority of votes this year will still go the way of Messi.

Haaland is the striker every team can only dream of: tireless, leads the line well, a great team player, but most importantly, is clinical and ruthless in front of goal.

He’s been unfairly criticized for not matching last season’s early season form but it’s not his fault if the supply chain is curtailed.

It’s not him to blame if the restructured City midfield and attack seem less fluid this year and are failing to provide him with the necessary ammunition.

It’s most definitely not Haaland’s doing either if the best assist maker and passer in the EPL, Kevin De Bruyne is injured and therefore unable to create the opportunities for Haaland that came thick and fast last season.

Nevertheless if his career at City follows the same hurricane speed success and trajectory he’s had to date, expect him to regularly be in the mix when it comes to the crowning of the best player in the world.

Meanwhile in the Ballon d’Or breeding ground capital of the world, Madrid; there’s another dude who has rushed in rapid time to the head of the queue and supplanted himself ahead of everyone else as the next Ballon d’Or victor.

Indeed I believe that Vini, Haaland, Mbabbe, Pedri et al may have to wait their turn behind the new trailblazer in the game, Jude Bellingham.

What’s there not to admire in someone who has literally taken ownership of the grandest club on the planet, assumed centre stage and totally belied his tender age in every conceivable manner since his arrival at the Bernabeu.

The question I also pose is: can you find a more complete player in world football anywhere right now?

Jude is ‘instinctive lethal Lineker in his prime’, ’gobble up the pitch lungs to die for Gerrard’, ’pin accuracy creative Beckham’ and ‘I will lead this team even it means I have no more legs John Terry’, all rolled into one.

England may eventually have the young man they have waited generations for and who may be the tipping stone that brings home the international trophy they have been desperately craving.

As the leader of Real’s next young generation, he will be the driving force and instrumental in their future success.

Jude as an Englishman will I imagine, also have the full backing of the influential English media who will stomach the Ballon d’Or not emanating from the EPL as long as the winner is English!

Much like in a similar vein in the Messi/CR7 goat debate, the majority of the same aforementioned media have generally been on the CR7 bandwagon simply because he spent a couple of his formative years in England being superbly schooled by Sir Alex at Manchester United!

In this case I will spell it out in advance in this very article: should Jude Bellingham win La Liga and the Champions League with Real Madrid, or should he merely guide England to the finals of the Euros next year, he will be instantly installed as favourite by the media and will become the first English victor since Michael Owen who won the award in 2001.

Till the next time folks….it’s worth pointing out that this will only be the second time since 2005 that the award has not been won by an El Clasico participant (Messi himself won it as a PSG player in 2021 and I suspect that Barca fans will still claim this award as theirs if Messi as expected wins!).

It’s a remarkable record but one that may be on the verge of being reignited again with the presence of the next batch of La Liga superstars such as Jude Bellingham, Vinicius Junior and Mbappe at Real (surely he will finally end up at Real next season) and Pedri,Gavi, Yamal and the plethora of new La Masia stars being unleashed and unxavigated at Barcelona.

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