Despite a disappointing 2022–23 season at the club level, Inter Miami’s small brilliance is perfectly deserving of a record-extending eighth Ballon d’Or.
It has been an incredible honor to watch Lionel Messi for almost twenty years. Football, moment after moment, was captivating and incredibly joyful. The football gods have gifted him to us. I’m quite happy that he won the biggest award in our sport. Felicidades y gracias, campeón.
Former Barcelona striker Gary Lineker has always been an outspoken champion of Messi, to the point that some critics have accused him of bias in his coverage as a presenter for BBC Sport. But his post-World Cup final tribute to the Argentina captain on social media was perfect.
It was impossible not to feel emotional at the sight of Messi lifting the one trophy that had eluded him for so long in Qatar. He had fallen short with Argentina at the final stage in 2014, and had struggled with the burden of huge expectations on the international stage ever since his debut as a long-haired teenager nine years earlier.
Messi’s majestic performances over the course of his 21-year career at Barcelona earned him seven Ballons d’Or – along with a host of La Liga and Champions League titles – but there were those that still questioned his eligibility for the unofficial title of the greatest of player all time due to his struggles at the World Cup.
Any lingering doubts were erased once and for all during the 2022 tournament as Messi led his country to glory in the Middle East. Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni was blessed with an exceptional squad, as the likes of Angel Di Maria, Alexis Mac Allister, Enzo Fernandez, Cristian Romero and flamboyant goalkeeper Emi Martinez all played key roles in their triumph.
But it was Messi who inspired them. He delivered time and time again when the Albiceleste needed something special to find a breakthrough or finish off an opponent, and held the team together in moments of adversity.
It truly was breath-taking to watch him unleash the full scope of his creative talents, and a joy to see him let his guard down to revel in the magnitude of his greatest achievement when it was all over. Messi completed football – and in doing so all but secured an eighth Ballon d’Or.
Erling Haaland is rightly in the debate for the 2023 award after firing Manchester City to the treble in his debut season at the Etihad Stadium, and his case is helped by the fact that Messi did not enjoy anywhere near the same success at Paris Saint-Germain.
But in reality, there was no comparison between the two men in terms of individual performance. Messi was once again the best player in the world in 2022-23.