This is the first edition of the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award and the three finalists are none other than FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez and Real Madrid's mercurial winger, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Positions 4-10 have already been decided, but the winner will only be revealed on August 25, after Barcelona's European Super Cup clash with FC Porto. That said, it doesn't take a genius to see that, despite Xavi and Cristiano Ronaldo's undeniable brilliance, this award has Lionel Messi's name written all over it. Here is why:
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This is pretty much clear. Xavi Hernandez and Cristiano Ronaldo are two of the finest players of this generation, but Lionel Messi is the greatest of them all.
Cristiano Ronaldo's specialty is his relentless goal scoring while Xavi is the best at controlling the tempo of the game and setting scoring chances for his teammates.
Lionel Messi can do both. His scoring prowess matches Ronaldo's and his vision and passing match Xavi's. No wonder the little Argentine led world football in both goals (53, same as Ronaldo) and assists (26, same as Real Madrid's Mesut Ozil) last season.
His fantastic dribbling, vision and goal scoring make him the best player of this generation by a considerable margin. In a good year for Messi, individual awards shouldn't escape. And this was a great year for Lionel Messi.
On an individual level, Lionel Messi had one of the best seasons you'll ever witness. His 53 goals and 26 assists don't even begin to tell the story. He was unstoppable for the whole season, obliterating defense after defense with his mesmerizing dribbles.
Cristiano Ronaldo also had an individual season for the ages, breaking some records along the way, but not exactly on Messi's level. Xavi Hernandez did what he does best, averaging more than 120 passes a game and pulling the strings in Barcelona's midfield, but that will not be enough to claim this award.
It's enough to say that these three players participated in La Liga and it was Lionel Messi who won sports newspaper Marca's Di Stefano Award as its player of the year (with Ronaldo second and Xavi third) for the third consecutive season.
This award is pretty much a replacement for the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year award, which rewarded Champions League performances. It's safe to assume, though, that the current award is different.
If the award was only for Champions League performances, Cristiano Ronaldo and Xavi Hernandez would frankly have no business being in the top three, nor would Falcao (whose Porto side didn't even participate in the Champions League) have come fifth.
That said, it is expected that Messi's clearly superior Champions League performances further tip the award in his favor.
He was the competition's top scorer for the third year in a row with 12 goals (thus equaling Ruud Van Nistelrooy's record) and scored in every tie of the knockout stages. Ronaldo and Xavi weren't even remotely close in this respect. After all, Ronaldo didn't even make the Champions League team of the year, while it's arguable that Xavi's place could have been taken by another player (for instance, his teammate Andrés Iniesta).
Football is a team sport, and in order to win individual awards you need to be in a great team. Lionel Messi knows this better than anyone, as he failed to capture the Ballon d'Or in 2007 and 2008 due to Barcelona's trophyless seasons.
If Real Madrid had won La Liga and the Champions League, it'd be only fair that Cristiano Ronaldo took the award. After all, this is not an award for talent, but for performance over a season. It seems logical that the best player of a given year is the one who leads his team to success. But Real Madrid didn't win La Liga or the Champions League; FC Barcelona did with Lionel Messi as their MVP, which makes the little Argentine deserving of this award.
Xavi Hernandez also had a phenomenal season, but it seems pretty clear that Messi was Barcelona's best player.
Biased? Maybe. A fact? Absolutely.
Lionel Messi is football's poster boy at the moment so to speak. He is seen as the humble, shy and unassuming superstar, while Cristiano Ronaldo is seen as an arrogant, egoistical player who's all about himself. Basically, Messi is Good and Ronaldo is Evil.
Of course that any person with a bit of critical thinking can easily see that these stereotypes make no sense. Messi surely isn't as perfect as he's portrayed and Ronaldo certainly isn't the devil personified. These assertions are especially ridiculous because we football fans know next to nothing about these two great footballers. But this is their public image, whether we like it or not.
Messi is the face of football right now; everybody loves Messi, including the governing bodies. The same can't be said about Ronaldo, whose every move tends to be excessively and unfairly criticized. It's Messi's world; Ronaldo is just living in it.
And then we have Xavi, who's no where near as polarizing as Messi and Ronaldo, just a world-class player who does his business without raising any waves. In short, he's not as marketable as Ronaldo or Messi.
In the current state of affairs, it's unthinkable that Messi doesn't win this award and the Ballon d'Or. It's just inconceivable that the golden child of football might not lift these awards this year. There is bias, but an absolutely justified bias: Lionel Messi is indeed the world's greatest player!
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