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Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez or Iniesta: Who's the Best Player in the World?

Manuel TraqueteSenior Analyst IJanuary 4, 2011

ALMERIA, SPAIN - MARCH 06:  Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta (R) of Barcelona talk before Messi scored from a free kick during the La Liga match between UD Almeria and Barcelona at Estadio del Mediterraneo on March 6, 2010 in Almeria, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past two years, you're certainly aware that Barcelona currently possess the three best football players in the world: Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andrés Iniesta. This fact was finally officially recognized and on January 10 Barcelona will become only the second team, after Arrigo Sacchi's AC Milan, to take all podium positions in the Ballon d'Or.

La Masia might also become the first academy to produce two different Ballon d'Or winners (if Xavi or Iniesta win), after Sporting Clube de Portugal's academy, who produced both Luis Figo (2001 winner) and Cristiano Ronaldo (2008 winner). La Masia will also become the first academy ever to produce all three Ballon d'Or finalists.

These three brilliant players have been absolutely instrumental to Barcelona's success in recent years. After all, having all three best players in the world can only mean success for a club. Led by these three magicians, Barcelona won a historic and unprecedented sextuple in 2009 and has captured eight trophies in the past 20 months. The blaugrana side did all this while playing some of the best football the world has ever seen, a football of such beauty that many pundits claim that this Barcelona team is the best club side of all-time (or at least up there with the best). Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are the very own heartbeat of this amazing team: their importance is highlighted by the fact that, under Pep Guardiola, Barcelona have never lost a match when all three started at the same time! Xavi and Iniesta pulling the strings and Messi annihilating defenses make Barcelona a nearly unbeatable side.

Xavi and Iniesta took their legend one step further by leading Spain, currently the best national team in the world, to the Euro and World Cup title.

Nominating these three players as Ballon d'Or finalists for 2010 is no more than recognizing three players who are head and shoulders above their peers at a historic time (just like Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten were in the late 80s), a brilliant team that has revolutionized football and an academy that produced a truly miraculous generation of footballers.

Choosing the finalists was the easy part. The hard part is to decide who the best among the three is, who is most deserving of such award.

Xavi is the string-puller for both Barcelona and Spain and the man behing the tiki-taka style these two teams employ. His consistency is second to none. Iniesta is the epitome of a big game player; the higher the stakes, the better Iniesta performs. Not even Lionel Messi can replicate Iniesta's big match form. The Argentine is hands down the most complete player in the world today and also the deadliest scorer. He's the most talented player of the current generation and the 2009 recipient of this award.

If the Ballon d'Or were merely a talent award, it'd be hard to dispute that Lionel Messi should be the winner. But the Ballon d'Or rewards consistency over the year, which changes things a bit.

On paper, it should exclude Iniesta, as Don Andrés missed most of the club season and failed to have any significant impact. He did, however, have a brilliant World Cup, where he scored the winning goal in the final, and that is a very important factor in World Cup years. Iniesta is a brilliant player and would be a very worthy winner, but Xavi and Messi seem to deserve it more based on their performances during the year.

Messi's club year was arguably the best in modern football history.  In 2010, the Argentine genius scored an unbelievable 45 goals in 36 league matches and, overall, 61 goals and more than 20 assists in only 52 matches. In the 2010/2011 La Liga, he has scored 17 goals and assisted 12 in only 14 matches, which means that he is creating more than two goals per match. These are truly ridiculous stats and they don't even tell the whole story. During 2010, Messi dazzled football fans all around the world and cemented his status as the best most outstanding talent of this generation. Comparisons to Maradona, arguably the best player of all-time, were even drawn by some pundits and fans alike.

However, for all his exploits in Barcelona, Messi failed to produce his best form in the World Cup, mostly due to Maradona's inadequate coaching.

That said, there was only one member of Barcelona's Holy Trinity who excelled both at the club and the international level: Xavi Hernandez. The Maestro showed unparallelled consistency and class and led both Barcelona and Spain to very successful years. He is the man who finally led Spain to international glory after decades of failure. Underrated for a long time, Xavi has now won several individual awards, including the World Soccer Player of the Year recently. But this is the big one, this is the only award left for Xavi to further cement his rightful status as a legend of the game. At 30 (almost 31), this might well be one of Xavi's last chances.

Denying Xavi this award would be as cruel an injustice as it was denying it to such legends as Frank Rijkaard and Paolo Maldini, whose importance in that brilliant Milan side was never fully recognized.

Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi are fantastic players, but it's Xavi Hernandez who deserves to collect the Ballon d'Or next week. Iniesta and Messi have several years left to collect the most coveted individual award in World Football, especially the latter, who, at 23, has the world at his feet.

Whoever wins, it will be a triumph for Barcelona and La Masia!

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