Ballon d'Or 2019: Analyzing Lionel Messi's chances of winning the coveted award after Argentina's Copa America collapse
Lionel Messi's name has long been associated with the illustrious Ballon d'Or as the last decade has seen the Argentine maestro take home a record five awards.
This year, the 32-year-old has been heavily tipped to win the coveted prize for a record sixth time, a feat that would make him the player with the most wins, ahead of on-field rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who also has five Ballon d'Ors to his name.
The Barcelona captain's closest competitor for the prize is Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk, who is believed to command another upset after delivering immense performances for European champions Liverpool.
It may be recalled that Messi and Ronaldo's decade-long duopoly over the Ballon d'Or was broken when Luka Modric lifted the Golden Ball in recognition of his outstanding contributions to Real Madrid and Croatia.
After Barcelona's disappointing season, the 2019 Copa America was believed to be Messi's ultimate chance to secure his Ballon d'Or win at the end of the year. However, Argentina crashed out of the tournament after suffering a heart-breaking defeat to Brazil in the semi-finals on Tuesday.
Here, we take a look at how Argentina's Copa America collapse will affect the Blaugrana captain's chances at winning a sixth Ballon d'Or this year.
Why he might have dampened his chances
Argentina's Copa America defeat joins quite a list of disappointments in Messi's campaign. Following Barcelona's plight in the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, the South American tournament was pegged to be the stage where the 32-year-old could reinforce his reputation as a Ballon d'Or favorite.
There isn't a lot that could overshadow Messi's scintillating individual campaign, but his performances in this summer's Copa America have been called into question. While the talisman was the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball recipient in 2014 and the top-scorer in the 2015 Copa America, his international performances this year were far from his best.
One of the most common statistics brought up in discussions is the fact that the Barcelona captain only managed one goal, which came from a penalty, in the entirety of the tournament. This contributes to the unwelcome fact that the forward has only scored four goals in twenty knockout matches for his national team.
Messi's collapses after winning a consecutive LaLiga with Barcelona are now being discussed as the potential reasons that could lead to yet another Ballon d'Or snub for the Argentine.
The Champions League, in particular, has been a key deciding factor in the race for the award in the last decade. The Catalan giants squandered the ultimate chance to win the European title this summer, losing out a three-goal deficit from the first leg to crash out of the competition.
In addition, they failed to retain the Copa del Rey, a title that they have dominated in the last few years after losing to Valencia.
Why he remains a favorite despite the collapses
The above-mentioned shortcomings could prove to be a stumbling block for Messi in the race for the Ballon d'Or but if the award truly looks at individual performances, his exploits would be incredibly difficult to overlook.
The Blaugrana captain has proven himself to be the most prolific player across Europe's top five leagues in terms of both goals and assists. He tallied 36 goals and 15 assists in 32 La Liga appearances, a number that earned him his sixth Pichichi trophy and the European Golden Shoe.
The Argentine dominated almost every attacking stat in the Spanish top flight, coming second only in terms of take-ons completed.
Despite not making it to the finals of the Champions League, Messi finished his European campaign as the competition's top-scorer with 12 goals to his name. Together with his three goals in the Copa del Rey, the La Masia graduate took his tally to a staggering 51 goals and 19 assists in all competitions.
The Copa America may not have seen the Argentina captain score the most goals but he emerged as the best player in the squad in terms of completed take-ons, most fouls won, chances created and most shots.
It is to be noted that neither Van Dijk nor Messi won any trophies with their national teams this summer, which means the race for the Ballon d'Or still remains open.