Where This Season Ranks Among Lionel Messi's Top Club Campaigns
The 2012-13 season of Argentine forward Lionel Messi has been almost unbelievable in terms of his performance levels and goalscoring tally. Yet, incredibly, it may not be the best of his career.
So good is Messi that it can be hard to separate his campaigns in recent years in terms of performances and achievements. They have all been unimaginably brilliant.
Over the next few pages, I have attempted to rank Messi's best five seasons as a professional in order of his performance levels. However, there will no doubt be plenty of room for argument.
Without further ado, let's take a look at just where the 2012-13 season ranks in the history of Lionel Messi.
Titles: La Liga, Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup
It seems remarkable to have to say that such an impressive season was only the fifth-best in the career of a player who is still just 25 years old, but that says much for the quality of Lionel Messi.
It was a season of many firsts for the 22-year-old, winning his first FIFA World Player of the Year title in January before going on to become the first Barcelona player to score hat-tricks in consecutive La Liga games.
A virtuoso performance against Arsenal in the Champions League also brought Messi four goals in a game for the first time in his career, while 34 goals in 35 league games was a mightily impressive goal return.
It was also the season when Pep Guardiola began to experiment with the Argentine in a "false nine" position.
Titles: La Liga, Champions League, Copa del Rey
While his goalscoring exploits may not have matched those of a year later, the fact that a 21-year-old Lionel Messi was so influential in his side winning a famous treble places the 2008-09 season ahead of its successor.
While still playing from the right flank in a three-pronged attack alongside Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o, Messi contributed nine goals in 12 appearances to send Barcelona to Champions League glory.
It was the season that laid the platform for his first FIFA Player of the Year award six months later, and the campaign that showed he had now reached the level of superstardom. Handed the No. 10 shirt from Ronaldinho, he excelled without showing any strain from the pressure.
A further six goals in eight games helped secure cup success, while 23 in 31 in the league was a remarkable return from the flank.
Titles: La Liga, Champions League, Spanish Super Cup
Again, it feels remarkable that a season in which a player scores at a rate of a goal per game whilst winning a league and European title can be classed as the third-best of his career to date.
This, though, is Lionel Messi.
In the eyes of many, the 2010-11 season was the peak of Pep Guardiola's Barcelona vision, and, as his false nine, Messi was at the centre of it all.
It was a season of yet more records, starting with a hat-trick to secure the Spanish Super Cup title in August. From then on he would be a scoring machine, breaking the club's record for most goals in a single season as well as equalling the UEFA Champions League record of 12 goals in a season.
It would be the third time that Messi would lift the European Cup, scoring memorable goals in both the semifinal and final in the process. In the league, he would add 18 assists to his 31 goals in 33 games.
Titles: La Liga
The 2012-13 season has brought yet another remarkable display of skill and ruthlessness from the Argentine, who both notched his 200th La Liga goal and 300th goal for Barcelona during the campaign.
More records would fall en route to a league title. As recorded by the Daily Mail, the Argentine became the first player in history to score in consecutive matches against every side in the league—an incredible 19 fixtures.
While the Champions League would end in disappointment once more, as Bayern Munich humbled the Catalans in the semifinal, it was not through lack of a contribution from Messi. The No. 10 scored eight in 11 games in the competition.
He also completed a remarkable 2012 calendar year, scoring a record 91 goals, and earned himself a fourth consecutive FIFA Ballon d'Or crown—another new record.
Titles: Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup
While 2011-12 may not have been a vintage year for Barcelona, with rivals Real Madrid going on to claim the La Liga title, it was certainly an outstanding year for Messi himself.
It was a year of yet more remarkable records for the phenomenon. Messi would become Barcelona's all-time top scorer in official competitions, the first player to score five times in a Champions League match and also tie the all-time record for most goals in a European Cup campaign (14).
His remarkable tally of 73 goals in a season was also the highest tally of any player in a European season, scoring a hat-trick eight times in the process.
To top off all that achievement, Messi became the first player to score 50 goals in a La Liga season while also winning a third FIFA Ballon d'Or crown.