The apotheosis of Lionel Messi is complete. No longer merely a footballer, Messi is now a living legend at 25, an icon on his way to becoming a deity among the sport's pantheon of greats.
Sorry, Cristiano. The polka-dotted La Pulga plays in a class of his own.
Long regarded as a master of the modern game, Messi now has become much more than that. On Monday, in a FIFA ceremony in Zurich, Switzerland, Messi won his fourth straight Ballon d'Or, the award handed out annually to the world's best footballer.
No player had ever won four straight, and none will likely do it again. What we are now witnessing, in fact, is history in the making, the source material of future legend.
And yet, the legend himself could hardly be more unassuming.
Typically for Messi, he accepted his latest accolade with a sheepish, almost embarrassed aura. One could almost imagine him wondering what all the fuss is about. At one point during his acceptance speech, he even apologized for being "so nervous."
Fine. Let him be humble. Those of us watching on will continue the search for the words worthy of his genius.
Even for a player of Messi's credentials, 2012 was a vintage year, even if he would tell you otherwise. Messi set a FIFA world record for goals in a calendar year with 91 in all competitions, as well as for most goals in a European season (73) and most goals in a La Liga season (50).
With a hat-trick on March 20, Messi became FC Barcelona's all-time leading scorer at the age of just 24. Cesar Rodriguez set the old mark at 232 over two decades, the 1940s and '50s. Messi did most of the damage over four glorious seasons from 2008-09 until 2011-12.
Not only that—he has made it look easy. Nicknamed "the Flea," Messi combines an almost superhuman reading of the game, a lethal left foot and an uncommonly deft touch that seems to sprinkle the ball with magic dust every time he touches it.
Defenders are often powerless against him, and onlookers often find the appropriate level of praise elusive.
As the clock counted down to his inevitable fourth Ballon d'Or, Messi received accolades from prominent figures across the globe. The tributes ranged from veneration to deification to something else entirely.
"You cannot compare anyone to Messi," said Alfio Basile, the former Argentine international and club manager (via FIFA.com). "Cristiano Ronaldo is a great human footballer, but Messi is a Martian. He can run even faster with the ball than he can without it.
"It's as if he's playing another sport."
Samuel Eto'o, a former teammate of Messi's at Barcelona, took that sentiment even further.
"Messi is a god—as a person and even more so as a player," he said. "I hope that he wins the World Cup with Argentina. To the gods of the world, all I ask is that you give him that chance.”
At the rate Messi is going, few would bet against that. Not even the powers that be. According to Messi, 2012 wasn't even his best year (via ESPN FC). The implication, taken to its logical conclusion, is astounding.
On Monday, we witnessed another act in the individual drama that one day will define the current era of football. For that we should feel fortunate.
For what comes next, we, the fervent faithful of the Church of the Flea, simply cannot stop watching.