On Monday, Barcelona forward Lionel Messi – also known as "la pulga", or the flea – won a record 4th consecutive Ballon d'Or trophy, an award given to the best players in the world. This latest accolade further cements his case as the best footballer (soccer for you Americans) in the world.
It was only weeks ago that Messi received a clever back heel pass from teammate Andrés Iniesta. The ball was perfectly positioned in front of the opposing team's net, and without hesitation, the 25-year-old swung his powerful left foot, struck it, and placed it perfectly into the back of the net for his 23rd goal of the season.
But that goal doesn't even begin to tell the whole story.
Messi's goal also sealed a 2-1 away win against a quality-laden Real Betis and gave Barcelona its 14th victory in 15 games to open the current La Liga season. The goal also vaulted Messi past the legendary player Gerd Muller, who owned the previous record for most goals (85) scored in a calendar year. That kick ensured Messi's place among the elite in the sport. Simply put: Lionel Messi is a goal machine and any team would be blessed to have him.
But is he really the best player ever as some pundits have asked?
Messi's 91 goals scored in 2012 is nothing short of astonishing. Ever since he surpassed Muller's record there's been a lot of talk about whether he is the best ever to play the game. To say so – in my humble opinion - is a bit far-fetched. I admit that there are millions of devoted fans around the world who will proclaim just the opposite, that Messi is the best player ever and that no one, past or present, can match him.
If we just examine his club statistics, there's no question about his preeminence. The striker has helped Barcelona to five La Liga titles (2005, 2006, 2009-2011); two Copa del Reys (2009, 2012); five Supercopas (2005, 2006, 2009-2011); three UEFA Champions League titles (2006, 2009, 2011); two UEFA Super Cups (2009, 2011)and two FIFA Club World Cups (2009, 2011). Oh, let's not forget about the four straight Ballon d'Ors as well. I know, it's a lot to keep track of. Just imagine what his trophy room(s) must look like. Mikhail Turner, a featured columnist for BleacherReport.com, listed 7 different reasons why the world should hail Messi as the best player ever. Here's one of them: "When you consider what Maradona did for his World Cup trophy, it has to be viewed very highly. In terms of his other accomplishments though, he will not match up to Messi in the end, and Messi may just match his greatest international achievement."
As good as he is and as incredible as his numbers are, Messi still has a short way to go before he achieves the greatness of Pelé or Diego Maradona or Johann Cruyff, but he's not far.
First and foremost, he has yet to lead Argentina to a World Cup title, something Brazil's Pelé and fellow countrymen Maradona did in their playing days. In fact, Pelé was just the schoolboy age of 17 when he scored six goals en route to the 1958 World Cup title. Maradona was 25 – Messi's current age – when he led Argentina to glory in Mexico in 1986 with 5 goals of his own.