Lionel Messi may have faced some criticism for his 2013-14 season with Barcelona and his failure to deliver Argentina the 2014 World Cup, but the coming season will give the star forward a golden opportunity to cement his legacy.
Let's get one thing straight—Messi has nothing left to prove. Even at the age of 27, he is already frequently mentioned as the greatest player in the history of the game, and his winning the Ballon d'Or four times only backs up that statement.
The pint-sized forward is a danger on the pitch when he has a bad day. When he's on form, he's the most unstoppable player in the world. The fact he couldn't lead a fairly average Argentine team to a World Cup win won't change that.
Lionel Messi is the best player in the world but I respect the amount of work Cristiano Ronaldo has put into the game. But Messi is just a freak. It is nice for kids to watch as they can see one guy who was given a gift and the other guy who does it through hard work.
Louis Saha used to tell me Ronaldo was the hardest worker at Manchester United. I am not saying Messi does not work hard - but it is more natural. Ronaldo had to work really hard to reach the top. They have the same mentality but that's the difference.
The past season wasn't kind on Messi, however, and the summer didn't bring any relief. Barcelona failed to win a trophy for the first time in six years, and the club was in turmoil at the conclusion of the 2013-14 season.
The Blaugrana have been very busy on the transfer market, but bitter rivals Real Madrid are stealing the spotlight at this point.
The arrival of Toni Kroos and James Rodriguez (imminent) coupled with the fact Los Blancos are the reigning European champions has some people, like ESPN FC's Max Bretos, referring to the team as "The Galacticos" again:
Reigning European Champs. Real Madrid, just signed Toni Kroos. Arrival of James Rodriguez immiment. Can we call them Galacticos again?— Max Bretos (@mbretosESPN) July 17, 2014
At this point, fans and pundits alike are looking at Real as the team to beat in Europe next year. With question marks surrounding the Blaugrana, Atletico Madrid forced to sell a number of key contributors and the rest of La Liga miles behind the big three clubs, the word "dynasty" is even being used.
Lost in all of that talk is the fact Barcelona are still a phenomenal team, and they will only be aided by the eventual return to the pitch of Luis Suarez. The suspended striker won't be available right away, but once his ban is over, he'll bring a whole new element to Barcelona's attack.
Messi isn't a scorer. That may sound like a bizarre thing to say when talking about one of the most gifted scorers on the planet, but it's true. Messi is the total package when it comes to attacking football. He's a wizard with the ball at his feet, and his game isn't limited to putting the ball in the back of the net.
Barcelona field a number of players very adept at scoring, but none of them boast the pure instincts Suarez has inside the box. The Uruguayan international is going to open up whole new areas of the pitch for Messi to exploit, making the Blaugrana that much harder to stop.
Yes, Barcelona have issues defensively, and the team probably won't be able to challenge the likes of Real and Bayern Munich until those issues are solved.
But at the end of the day, for all those defensive issues and the presence of Suarez, one name will come to mind when people speak of Barcelona—Messi. He's the face of this team, and the one man people praise or critique depending on the results the Blaugrana achieve.
Going up against the might of a new generation of Galacticos, Barcelona have little to lose heading into next season. Titles are expected every year, but this new Madrid team almost represents a sort of Evil Empire. Real should win the title. They should dominate in Europe.
And if they don't, it will likely be because of Messi. Because even if Barcelona find a way to halt Los Blancos' run as a team, people will point to the Argentine attacker as the catalyst for success.
Surprising the world by overcoming the new Galacticos could be Messi's greatest achievement in years, and a defining moment in a career that is already approaching legendary proportions. Messi's legacy is safe, but it could grow that much greater in the upcoming season.