A tribute to UEFA 2015 Best Player - Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi wins the 2015 UEFA Best Player trophy. Now there’s a surprise! Well, not quite. As sure as one can be, this was a trophy that was nailed on for the Argentine to add to his glittering haul of trophies once he got the bit between his teeth after an alleged bust up with manager Luis Enrique and propelled another Barcelona side to the treble.
Before getting into the reasons why Messi was a worthy winner of the accolade, let’s reflect for a moment that it was only just over a year ago that some quarters of the media were saying that Messi was finished. “Over the hill” was a phrase that dominated the column inches.
Barcelona were certainly a shadow of their former selves under Tata Martino and Messi was absolutely demotivated and uninterested. But to suggest that he was anywhere close to being over the hill was lazy journalism at its finest. Whatever Enrique said or did at either the start or middle of the season, it rekindled the fire and awoke the beast within once again.
Fortunately for the Catalans, and for Messi himself, his hard work was rewarded with more silverware. Ronaldo may have won the Pichichi for most goals, but it’s pretty insignificant when taking into account exactly how significant Messi was for Barca.
Another 10 goals in the Champions League on the way to victory in the competition was equalled by others, but it also gave the Argentine his fifth top scorer award for European football’s premier club competition. A feat that remains unequalled to this point.
Goals, of course, remain his currency and 58 scored in all competitions was on par with what we have come to expect. To think that getting 25 in the Premier League is seen as a great season by comparison!
A sublime season even by Messi’s high standards
2014/15 was the season when Messi became not only the all-time record goalscorer in La Liga – a record held for almost 60 years by Athletic Bilbao’s Telmo Zarra – but also the all-time record scorer in the Champions League. In roughly half the time it took previous record holder Raul to reach the mark.
Reverting back to the right-sided berth where he has always enjoyed success for the Catalans, Messi also provided 28 assists and countless other near misses. The arcing ball into Neymar’s path became a staple move for the La Liga champions throughout the season, and one that seemingly no one was able to stop at any point.
Ronaldo by comparison hit 61 goals and a career-best 22 assists, but importantly for the purposes of the award, was not able to influence his team to the extent where they were able to win any trophies aside from the Club World Cup.
Although the winning of the same does bring with it the kudos of being “World Champions,” it cannot realistically be compared to a league title from one of Europe’s top five divisions, or the Champions League.
Arguably, one of the most ridiculous statistics of the 2014/15 campaign has to be aligned to Messi’s consistency across the season.
Playing every minute of every game bar the first half against Real Sociedad – which apparently caused the row that seemed to be the catalyst to Barca’s successes – Messi was a man-of-the-match an astonishing 43 times out of the 60 games he had played.
To be playing at that kind of level week-in and week-out in this day and age is unheard of and must be taken into account when awarding such platitudes as the Best Player. Lest we forget that a man-of-the-match award is a weekly “best player” accolade in any event. There is unlikely to be any player, anywhere over the last year, or any other year frankly, that can compete with those numbers.
Messi is more than just numbers
If football is an entertainment business then Messi wins out here too. Rarely does a player excite, leave you open-mouthed or get you up off of your seat as often as Messi.
Who can forget the nutmeg on Manchester City’s James Milner that left ex-Barca manager Pep Guardiola, who was in the stands that night, purring for more. Or the sumptuous opener in the Copa Del Rey final – a goal that will remain as one of the finest he or anyone else has ever scored.
Although taking Argentina to within a whisker of Copa America greatness falls outside the remit of UEFA, there’s little doubt that it would play a part in the thinking of those casting their votes.
UEFA’s Michel Platini handed over the accolade to Messi, the second time in the award’s five-year history that he has won it. The slightly embarrassed look from Messi was in sharp contrast to Cristiano Ronaldo’s disappointment. But the Portuguese was never going to take the gong this time around.
Messi noted to reporters after receiving the award that: "We're a unified squad who worked very hard to achieve the goals we did. I'm very happy and I would like to thank my team-mates – without them I wouldn't have achieved this."
Rest assured we’ll see another battle royale between football’s two greatest protagonists this coming season and be back here next year with the same duo clambering for supremacy once more.
Bring. It. On.