Lionel Messi was chosen as the Golden Ball winner for the 2014 World Cup. The award is handed out to the player voted as the tournament's best. However, it came after a losing effort against Germany in the final.
Messi turned 27 during this summer's tournament. He has spent the past handful of years carrying an extremely heavy burden for both Argentina and Barcelona, his club side, and there were times during the tournament when you could see that was taking its toll.
The Straits Times passed along comments from his father ahead of the final, who admitted the forward wasn't at full strength:
It makes his accomplishments in Brazil even more astonishing. He only flashed peak form rather than sustain it for an extended period of time and was still voted the best player in the tournament, which featured no shortage of star power.
Messi entered the World Cup with a resume that was starting to solidify his place among the greatest players to ever step on a pitch. Still, he had never won a title on the sport's biggest stage, and the number of opportunities is limited compared to a domestic or Champions League trophy.
John Drayton of the Daily Mail provided comments Messi made to the Spanish outlet AS about what it would mean to him to bring his country a World Cup:
As a player winning a World Cup is the best there is. It's something you dream about when you are a kid and it never disappears.
I have asked my Barcelona team-mates Xavi, (Andres) Iniesta and (Gerard) Pique what it is like to lift the trophy, and they couldn't explain.
Even though it was clear the Argentine stalwart was fighting through some fatigue, he still found a way to make an impact, as the great players usually do. He appeared in all seven of the team's matches, scoring four goals and chipping in an assist.
Who deserved the Golden Ball award?
Several other players enjoyed elite form during the tournament—Arjen Robben, Neymar, James Rodriguez and Thomas Mueller among them. But none carried the same burden as Messi and he still managed to produce, which swayed the voters in his direction.
One other thing the World Cup did was re-establish Messi as the best player in the world. It's an unofficial title that he held for a while before Cristiano Ronaldo challenged, and in some minds took it over the past 18 months.
Now, as he prepares to return to Barcelona, the club must pay close attention to his energy level. The World Cup always presents an extra hurdle because some players aren't able to get any rest. Messi certainly falls into that category.
The outlook is bright for Barcelona with the presence of Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez up front. But between Messi's endless duties, Neymar's injuries and Suarez's ban, there will be question marks early in the campaign.
Those are concerns for another day, though. For now, Messi should celebrate winning the coveted Golden Ball award.