Can Lionel Messi make it five in a row?
Despite winning the prestigious golden ball on an unprecedented four successive occasions—this would be his fifth—and being injured for over three months of the year, the Argentine has still done enough to edge himself ahead of fellow nominees Franck Ribery and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Alec Fenn of Goal.com notes Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti as suggesting that Ronaldo "has to" win the accolade this year and after the Portuguese's star turn in the World Cup play-off vs. Sweden, many (including Metro) thought that the balance had been firmly tipped in Ronaldo's favour.
To dismiss the Argentine is folly, so let's take a look at 25 reasons why Messi must win...
Far too much has been written on why Lionel Messi should not win this year's accolade.
Dependant on the exact criteria to win the award, which has still never been properly explained, any one of the three nominees could stake a claim to the title.
What has been quite unpalatable about this year's race is the amount of media and political posturing as to why Messi should not win.
Ben Hayward of Goal.com notes that both Barcelona President Sandro Rosell and ex-Blaugrana striker Hristo Stoichkov allude to the various machinations and behind-the-scenes manoeuvring.
Rosell: "As long as people (the voters) take no notice of political or media pressure, the Ballon d'Or will be for Messi."
Stoichkov: "The Ballon d'Or disgusts me. Platini moves well: Ribery is French and he has won a lot of titles [this year]."
Certainly the re-opening of the voting after Ronaldo's match-winning performance for Portugal has given rise to the conspiracy theories.
Do bookmakers know something we don't?
It's very rare that bookmakers get their gambling odds wrong.
According to Mirror Football, UK bookies William Hill said they have "never seen anything like it" as the Argentine's odds were sent tumbling after a tip-off from Agencia News.
The agency has previous, having correctly predicted the order of last year's Ballon d'Or lineup well before it was revealed.
The report goes on to say:
Real Madrid's Portuguese superstar Ronaldo has been red-hot favourite to finally beat rival Messi to the gong after FIFA extended the voting.
Ronaldo almost single-handedly led Portugal to the World Cup after his stunning performance in their play-off victory and captains, coaches and media were allowed an extra two weeks to cast their vote following the two-legged tie with Sweden.
But bookies have seen a dramatic shift in odds since the claim that Messi could scoop Ronaldo yet again.
It's a really strange market—and certainly we've never seen anything like it.
In a rambling, and frankly embarrassing, address to the Oxford Union towards the latter part of 2013, FIFA President Sepp Blatter gave his reasons as to who might win the accolade.
According to Blatter, Messi is a "good boy" whom "every mother or father would like to take home" and who will "get a lot of votes."
"The other one" (referring, of course, to Ronaldo), "spends more on hair products."
Well, that's sealed it then.
Franz Beckenbauer is in no doubt who deserves the award this year.
"Der Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer sums it up succintly, per Goal.com, why Messi deserves the award once again:
In my opinion, Messi is the best player in the world.
His talents, his movement and his skills are extraordinary and then he is able to score goals.
He's a real leader and also, outside of the field, he's a gentleman and his character is perfect.
Lionel Messi just can't stop collecting silverware.
If trophies are an indicator of a footballer's success, then let us take a look at Messi's haul in 2013:
An inspirational season helped Barcelona to wrestle La Liga back from Real Madrid in 2013, and this season started as the previous one had ended—with more silverware.
In August, the Spanish Super Cup was again added to the Messi trophy cabinet and latterly the European Golden Shoe for a record third time (more on that later).
Mess was also awarded La Liga's best player in December.
Lionel Messi does the business every time he steps onto the football pitch.
It's nigh-on impossible for a football player to keep playing at his optimum level over a long period of time.
Whether it be fatigue, loss of confidence or something else, it's pretty much a given that a player will have a dip in form at some point in a season.
Not Lionel Messi.
For years now, he has run the football world ragged. He has been at the absolute pinnacle of his game for what seems like a lifetime.
Can you recall the last time he had a bad game? That kind of consistency is just unbelievable.
Messi will get stuck in if required.
One of the best sights for the any football fan is that of their heroes giving 100 percent in every game.
For each wonderful piece of skill that Messi produces, he matches that with his tracking back and defensive work for the team.
No complaints. No prima donna behaviour. He just gets on with it.
For someone of his standard, that is a truly special quality that marks him out from the rest.
Messi helped Argentina qualify for World Cup 2014 with four games to spare.
Both Ronaldo and Ribery could only qualify for the World Cup via play-off victories for their respective countries and neither were particularly consistent throughout the qualifying campaign.
Messi played a huge part in ensuring that Argentina qualified safely with four games left to play. 10 goals in qualifying meant he finished as second-highest top scorer in the South American section.
You can always rely on Messi to stand up and be counted in the big games.
Whatever the game, however big the occasion, Lionel Messi has always shown up. Always been there getting his hands dirty. Putting in a shift.
The same cannot be always be said of Cristiano Ronaldo who continues to go missing in a lot of games.
He may have delivered in the World Cup play-off, but what of his other big game performances? In the Copa Del Rey Final of 2013, aside from his goal, what else did the Portuguese do?
Ex-teammate Guti said of Ronaldo, per Fox Sports:
Cristiano is a great player. He's decisive in many games, but in the big games he isn't up to the task, unlike Messi, who has shown he is.
The very best players are the ones who work in the highest-level matches.
An Oxford University study concludes that Messi is better than Ronaldo.
Who are we to argue with the world's best minds? Academics at the top of their profession?
If they decree that Lionel Messi is better than Cristiano Ronaldo, then it is so.
According to Marca, a joint study carried out by Oxford University, Bristol University, St Andrews University and a number of Australian institutions concluded that "Lionel Messi has a gene that makes him more creative and inventive out on the pitch than Cristiano Ronaldo."
The report goes on to say:
The research shows that left-footed footballers have the edge over their right-footed counterparts.
Players who favour their left foot have inverted brain hemisphere functions, which gives them an extra dose of unpredictability. The wizardry of the likes of David Silva, Leo Messi, Gareth Bale, Diego Maradona and Ryan Giggs, amongst many others, would appear to back up this theory.
As science shows, the secret is in your DNA.
This originality can make itself felt in a whole host of scenarios, including left-footed players' ability to come up with creative ideas and solutions during the course of a match, invent new tricks, flicks and skills and even capitalise on goalscoring chances more quickly.
So there you have it.
Messi's goals and performances have helped Barca stay at the very top for well over a year.
Barcelona have been top of La Liga for a record-breaking 17 months, since August 2012.
For a team to be able to produce that level of consistency in this era of the modern game is astonishing, but Lionel Messi has had much to do with their dominance during that time.
It's as if the Argentine refuses to accept anything as a lost cause and has often single-handedly dragged Barca to a winning position.
The winning of La Liga BBVA Best Player award in 2013 was surely an acknowledgment of Messi's value in keeping Barca at the pinnacle of Spanish football.
Messi is the only player to win the European Golden Shoe award on three occasions.
Messi has the total respect of his team mates.
"All for one, and one for all."
It's a maxim that could've been invented for Lionel Messi.
At the hub of much of the good work that Barca do, Messi is often the catalyst for a chance or score.
As much a creator of goals as well as a taker, the Argentine, you would imagine, derives as much pleasure from setting up colleagues as he does when burying the ball into the onion bag himself.
Football is a team game after all.
There isn't a conceivable weakness in Messi's all-round game.
To understand just how good Lionel Messi is, you have to study each element of his work.
In so doing, you will have an extremely difficult time identifying a weakness.
His concentration is total, his all-round game complete.
There is simply nothing that Lionel Messi cannot do. A once-in-a-lifetime talent.
Messi's goals against Valencia took him to a significant milestone.
Before the injury against Real Betis that ended Lionel Messi's 2013 early, the Argentine was still scoring goals for fun.
After netting a hat-trick away against Valencia, it meant that the little maestro had scored over 100 away goals for the Blaugrana.
The other significant milestone achieved in so doing was that he therefore became the player to score the most away goals in La Liga history.
Messi's hat-trick against Ajax gave him another record
The trio of goals meant that he became the first player ever to score four hat-tricks in the Champions League.
It also placed him second only to Raul in the all-time scorers list in the competition with 62 goals.
Lionel Messi would get Xavi's vote.
When you go to war, you want someone in the trenches you can rely upon to drag you through the battle.
Lionel Messi is Barca's "go-to" man in that sense.
I would always give it [Ballon d'Or] to Messi, because he is the player that wins matches by himself, although you have to recognise that Ribery and Cristiano have reached stratospheric heights in terms of goals and assists.
Messi is still regarded as the best in the world.
There can be no denying that both Cristiano Ronaldo and Franck Ribery have enjoyed stellar years.
Yet, if you asked the question "Who is the world's best football player?", chances are most would still say Messi.
Xavi Hernandez goes one better, saying Messi is the best ever according to Rob Brennan, Daily Mail.
And the Ballon d'Or is still given for the world's best player right?
Despite being the best in the world, Lionel Messi is still one of the most humble guys around.
Footballers of today are ambassadors of the game and role models to the youth, but these are facets that are often overlooked.
Yet a player's demeanour on the pitch and lifestyle away from the game can have far-reaching implications.
Despite an unprecedented level of success, Lionel Messi remains as humble as when he began his career. No histrionics on the field of play, no "circus" off it.
The "likeability factor" if you prefer.
It's certainly an area that can sway voters, as many politicians will no doubt attest to.
God help you if you are one-on-one with Messi
If Lionel Messi is bearing down on your goal, especially in a one-on-one scenario, there is generally only one outcome.
The ball ends up embedded in the back of the net.
When it comes to composure in front of goal, Messi rarely has any equal.
If the keeper stays, Messi picks his spot. If he comes out to narrow the angle, Messi will rarely snatch at the chance, and in all likelihood he'll dink it over the keeper once he has committed himself.
In the heat of battle, that's quite a skill.
No grandiose posturing required here.
Direct, purposeful and incisive, Lionel Messi is the king of the dribble.
Despite being almost exclusively left-footed, in full flight the Argentine is unbelievably difficult to shake off of the ball.
As Mike Norrish noted for the Telegraph:
Unlike Cristiano Ronaldo, who can be guilty of slowing down an attack with an orgy of step overs, Messi's runs are often lethally direct.
No team in the history of the competition had turned around a two-goal deficit.
Step forward Lionel Messi. After his presence had lifted Barca to, eventually, oust Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round, his form carried the Blaugrana to a historic second leg win against the Italians.
A wonderful first goal was followed by a masterclass of football, with Messi instrumental in proceedings.
Messi has a full appreciation of everyone around him.
Another trait that marks Messi out from his contemporaries is the awareness and appreciation of everything across the field of play, and not necessarily just in his field of vision.
At full speed, his pinpoint link up play with his Barca colleagues is beautifully crafted, and both short or long balls are delivered with stunning accuracy.
His movements into space allow him that split-second to continue his forward momentum, ahead of the covering defender.
It's a simple, but often unnoticed, act that goes a long way to opening up the pitch for goalscoring opportunities.
Records are made to be broken, so they say, but surely no player will ever equal, let alone break, Messi's astonishing record of scoring against every La Liga team consecutively.
It is a record so utterly preposterous as to be almost unbelievable.
For the equivalent of an entire half season, Messi scored. Every week.
The Argentine began his run on November 11, 2012 in the match against Mallorca and finished the "circle" on March 30, 2013, in a 2-2 draw against Celta Vigo.
Each opponent picked off one by one.
(For a wonderful graphic of Messi's achievement, look at Pete Jensen's report for the Daily Mail).