The life of Lionel Messi doesn’t come without its share of scrutiny, and this week happens to be one of the busier periods in the Argentine’s calendar.
Following one of the most eye-catching transfer windows in the sport’s history, during which the names of Gareth Bale and Neymar were added to La Liga, Barcelona’s pint-sized poacher resumes his Champions League ventures knowing he is under more pressure than ever to prove he remains the best footballer on the planet.
Franck Ribery was recently named Europe's finest of the 2012/13 campaign earlier this month, while Cristiano Ronaldo made an instant impact in Real Madrid's first Champions League outing on Tuesday.
Adding to the pressure on Messi is the impending court hearing, brought against him and his father for an alleged act of tax evasion.
His European campaign begins with the visit of Ajax and, despite both clubs’ massive pedigree in the continental spectrum, Barca have never actually met the Dutch champions in a competitive fixture.
59 - Lionel Messi has netted 59 goals in the Champions League, only Raul (71) has more goals to his name in the competition. Stars— OptaJose (@OptaJose) September 18, 2013
Messi will be the light that La Blaugrana look to for guidance through this maiden encounter. He has scored six goals in his last three La Liga games this season.
However, off-field matters cannot be overlooked. Sept. 18 was the original date set for his court hearing, which was delayed upon request. According to the Daily Mail’s David Kent, the forward stands accused of hiding £3.4 million in 2006 and 2009 and has already made a “corrective payment” of £4.2 million.
With such matters affecting his personal life right now, it’s incredible the player has managed to maintain playing standards to his usual high level, producing a typically incisive run to set up Barca's recent last-gasp winner against Sevilla.
On the pitch Messi has a growing list of players wishing to dethrone him as the world's best. The aforementioned transfer activity came from bitter rivals Real Madrid, who were the more active of the El Clasico participants over the summer.
Last weekend brought the best news Los Merengues could have hoped to hear, with The Independent’s Sam Wallace reporting on Cristiano Ronaldo’s new five-year deal in the Spanish capital.
The Portuguese has been a constant thorn in Messi’s side during his hunt for world football absolution, ever the yin to his yang and providing the only viable alternative when naming the sport’s best.
As if combating Ronaldo’s immense skill wasn’t enough, Bale might now be another Real nemesis for Messi to outdo in the near future, after the Welshman started his Madrid career in scoring fashion.
Can Messi withstand the heat of Bale and Ronaldo?
It might prove that the South American welcomes the arrival of bigger names to his division, happy for the attention to be taken off him.
That notion transpires to within his own ranks as well, with Neymar having alleviated some of the superstar spotlight at the Camp Nou in recent weeks.
Against Ajax, however, Messi will be expected to guide the Brazilian as he makes his Champions League bow, contending with the pressures of being mentor as well as talisman.
Knowing the player as we do, four-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi is likely to come out of his latest test shining, but Wednesday’s Dutch opposition will do all in their ability to ensure that doesn't happen.