Four years have passed since the Ballon d'Or trophy first had Lionel Messi's name etched into it, but with the 2013 ceremony upon us, it appears the Argentinian maestro is about to make room for Franck Ribery—or more likely—Cristiano Ronaldo.
According to Spanish daily newspaper AS (h/t DNAIndia.com), legendary star Pele has revealed the award will change hands on Monday, saying: "The principal award will go to Ronaldo."
Ronaldo has been a consistent threat to Messi over the years and, over the past 12 months, it appears the Portuguese superstar has finally done enough to wrest the Ballon d'Or from his rival's grasp.
Messi will be disappointed, sure, but 2014 is the year he can capture the most important trophy of his life.
An Argentina win at the 2014 World Cup, which just so happens to be taking place in Brazil, gives the forward great incentive to continue improving his game—if that's even possible.
If this year's individual accolades are going to be flaunting somebody else's name, Messi would trump all by lifting the FIFA World Cup trophy in front of his nation's greatest rivals.
Messi's previous World Cup showings have left plenty to be desired. He has scored just one goal in eight matches after appearing at the 2006 and 2010 tournaments, as reported by FIFA's official website. For his quality, the Barcelona man has contributed little to an Argentinian outfit who have been disappointing in recent campaigns on the big stage.
As written by Spanish football expert Graham Hunter in his Daily Mail article, Messi is not the type of player to settle for this. He has pushed himself through injuries in the past to ensure the greatest results, but as he heads toward the age of 27, his biggest achievement could still be in the pipeline:
He’s human. His totally insatiable hunger to play and score in every game has cost him. Time to reassess.
Moreover, this summer Argentina, captained by Messi, have a reasonable chance of winning the World Cup—and oh what succulent sweetness to do it in Rio of all places.
This summer might, just might, help define whether he’s an all-time great or the all-time great.
Messi netted 10 goals during qualifying for the upcoming tournament, launching Argentina to an automatic place in Brazil, per FIFA.
Alejandro Sabella's team lost two matches throughout qualifying—with Venezuela and Uruguay picking up home wins against his side—but it's the consecutive draws against Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador that will have the coach most worried.
On paper, Argentina's firepower topples any team in the world. A roll call of Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Carlos Tevez, Angel Di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi—plus upcoming talents such as Mauro Icardi—is difficult for any side to match.
Yet it never quite seems to happen for the team that last captured football's biggest trophy in 1986, a year that saw Diego Maradona confirm his legacy with a stunning pass to Jorge Burruchaga in the final.
Burruchaga made it 3-2 against West Germany from Maradona's pass, highlighting that great players can make the difference without needing to hit the back of the net.
Messi needs to replicate this when Argentina head to Rio. While global press will undoubtedly focus on his ability to score, the intelligent forward must prioritise the success of his nation before sticking it to the media with a personal blitz on his opponents' net.
The Maradona World Cup of '86 ensures he will always be mentioned in debates over the greatest ever player. Messi is arguably every bit as good as his compatriot, if not better, but he needs a World Cup to prove it.
This is something that would speak louder than any moniker of individual brilliance. Considering he will be 31 when the 2018 final in Qatar comes round, it may be Messi's best chance of getting his hands on the trophy that has eluded Argentinian grasp for 28 years.
Should Messi's influence—goals or otherwise—send Sabella's squad to Brazilian glory, the Ballon d'Or would be vastly overshadowed, something Messi has done to Ronaldo for most of his career.
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