FC Barcelona's 2008-09 season was the most incredible in their history. They became the first Spanish team to win the coveted treble of the La Liga, Champions League, and Copa del Rey.
While the main reason for their success was that the team gelled together perfectly as a unit, there were over the course of the season many stellar individual performances which helped the team on its way.
The most memorable of these was Andres Iniesta's stunning injury time equalizer at Stamford Bridge that saw Barcelona progress to the Champions League final.
But there was one player who stole the show throughout the course of the season. One little Argentinean wizard, who dominated proceedings from start to finish.
The statistics of Messi’s dominance are staggering indeed. Messi contributed 38 goals with 24 assists in all competitions. That makes him directly responsible for 62 of the team's 156 goals in all competitions. He was also the Champions League's top scorer with nine goals.
But the statistics are not the only measure of Lio's brilliance throughout the season. He has risen to the occasion in almost every big match. In the first El Clasico against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, Messi was "tactically" fouled throughout the game by a Real team that saw this as the only way to stop him.
But it was Leo who sealed the game with a delicate chip over Casillas' head, which had Cannavaro crashing into the post trying to keep it out.
Against Lyon and Bayern Munich, in the Champions League Round of 16 and quarterfinals respectively, Messi was devastating. In the two home games, Messi scored three goals, and made two assists as Barcelona demolished the French champions 5-2 and the German champions 4-0.
In the second Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu, Messi was in his element. Shifted to a comparatively unfamiliar role in the centre of the park in order to take advantage of Madrid's comparatively slow central defenders, Messi ripped them apart.
He scored two goals and made one exquisite assist to round off a superb Barcelona performance that saw them run out 6-2 winners.
Against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, as time was running out for Barcelona, it was Lionel Messi who supplied that fateful pass to Andres Iniesta, which Iniesta buried into the top corner to send Barcelona to Rome.
The highlight of the season was the Champions League final in Rome against Manchester United. Many people had billed this as a Lionel Messi versus Cristiano Ronaldo clash. However, when the match started, it was obvious who was in control—Messi.
His dribbling through the centre of the park often forced the Manchester United defenders to foul him in threes and fours. And each time after he was brought down, Messi was first to his feet and ready to run more.
He capped his performance with a superb arching header from Xavi’s cross that left Van der Sar completely stranded and the Manchester United fans looking on in horror. Barcelona won that match 2-0 and consequently, lifted the third trophy to complete their treble.
Other notable performances of his include a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Atletico Madrid, two goals against Racing after coming off the bench to secure a 2-1 victory and the Copa del Rey final, where he scored one goal and made two assists.
In spite of being injured for three months during the 2007-08 season, Messi was the runner-up for the Ballon d’Or. He also ran Manchester United ragged with his thighs heavily bandaged. Unfortunately for him, on that night, he was the only Barcelona player who was in inspired form, and the team was dumped out of the Champions League 1-0 on aggregate.
Argentina coach Diego Maradona has said that Messi is his direct successor. Marcelo Lippi, Jurgen Klinsmann, Guus Hiddink, and even Alex Ferguson have all acknowledged that there is no player like Lionel Messi in the world today.
And the most frightening thing for oppositions is that Messi is only 22 (tomorrow). He has at least 10 more years in front of him at the top level. If the saying that footballers peak between 27 and 31 is true, then Messi is still five years from his peak. Can anyone imagine just how good Messi will be then?
There is no question about who deserves to win the Ballon d’Or award this year. After winning the Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey, with a contribution of 38 goals and 24 assists, it would be a major shock if anyone but Lionel Messi lifted the coveted trophy.