In the grand chronicle of Lionel Messi’s storied career, 2021 will feature heavily. This was, after all, the year the footballing world changed for the player widely viewed as the greatest to have ever played the game. In fact, Messi’s career could well be categorised as pre and post 2021 such was its significance to the 34-year-old.
His summer transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, preceded by a tearful farewell to Barcelona amid financial troubles, felt like a glitch in the footballing matrix. Messi was never meant to wear any other club colours besides blaugrana. He had come to embody Barca and they had come to embody him. By leaving the Camp Nou, Messi left behind a part of his soul.
The months before that weren’t much more enjoyable for him either as Barcelona struggled to compete domestically and on the continent. While Messi was hardly to blame for this, his performances were scrutinised for their lethargy. He didn’t look to be the same player who had thrilled fans for over a decade. Just because Messi will remember 2021 forever doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good year.
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And yet a sub-par year for Messi could still be better than anything produced by anyone else. Despite everything, only Robert Lewandowski (30) scored more league goals in 2021 than the Argentine (23). Factoring in international form, Messi was still world football’s top scorer with 37 goals, not to mention 14 assists for good measure, in 46 games.
Messi might not have ended the 2020/21 club season with any silverware to show for his efforts, nor is the 2021/22 season old enough for the 34-year-old to have had the chance to win a trophy for PSG, but he did propel Argentina to an historic Copa America triumph, La Albiceleste’s first major honour in 28 years.

Lionel Messi mit dem Top-Scorer-Award bei der Copa

Image credit: Getty Images

This might explain why Messi is odds on with many bookmakers to win a seventh career Ballon d’Or in 2021. Those who only saw the 34-year-old suffer footballing trauma this year might be surprised by this, yet Messi’s argument to be once again crowned world football’s best is a strong one.
Circumstances might well have played into Messi’s hands given there is no outstanding alternative to win the sport’s most prestigious individual award, but the standard he has set this year is still higher than anyone else can match. The numbers he has produced prove this.
Last year, Lewandowski likely would have got his hands on the famous gold ball had the Covid-19 pandemic not forced the cancellation of the 2020 Ballon d’Or. The Polish striker has kept his numbers high, breaking Gerd Muller’s long-standing Bundesliga scoring record last season, but his 2021 has lacked a true moment of glory like Messi got at the Copa America.

PARIS, FRANCE - SEPTEMBER 28: Leo Messi of Paris Saint-Germain reacts after scoring during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City at Parc des Princes on September 28, 2021 in Paris, France. (Photo by Aureli

Image credit: Getty Images

Jorginho has been put forward by those who believe Chelsea’s Champions League win and Italy’s Euro 2020 triumph should be represented by a single player, but the central midfielder lacks the X factor of many other candidates. The same could be said of N’Golo Kante despite the esteem he is held in across the sport.
Karim Benzema and Romelu Lukaku could have been frontrunners had France and Belgium gone further at Euro 2020 respectively. Cristiano Ronaldo’s numbers hold up against Messi’s (he has averaged a goal every 104 minutes in 2021 compared to Messi’s average of one every 110 minutes), but Juventus only just scraped a fourth-place finish in Serie A last season while Portugal didn’t make it past the last 16 at Euro 2020.
Individual awards in a team sport, like the Ballon d’Or, are always decided using some sort of contrived equation that mixes individual numbers with team achievements, but Messi’s formula, whichever way you divide it, still looks to be a winning one.
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