Lionel Messi’s case as the greatest football player ever was further burnished on Monday when he was awarded the Ballon d’Or at the France Football awards ceremony in Paris. The Argentinean striker was named football’s player of the year for a record sixth time, breaking a tie with longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo for the most such awards ever won by an individual.
— #BallondOr (@francefootball) December 2, 2019
But just because Messi’s career accomplishments and remarkable level of play for a 32-year-old are both unmatched hardly means his Ballon d’Or victory is unimpeachable. Here are three reasons why he didn’t deserve to win his sixth “Golden Ball” in 2019.
Lackluster Team Success
Messi deserves immense credit for his role in leading Barcelona to the 2019 La Liga title. He has them on track for the same result this season in the wake of a stunning, late-game goal in a 1-0 victory over the Atletico Madrid. This is the type of galloping one-two sequence the football world has come to expect from Messi over the last decade-plus but is still mostly reserved for a player of his creativity, skill, and foresight alone.
But apart from his team-wide triumphs in La Liga, Messi’s sides failed to live up to expectations over the past year.
Argentina underachieved at all stages of the Copa America, going 1-1-1 in group play while scoring as many goals as it allowed. Messi and company then fell to Brazil by the score of 2-0 in the semifinals, after which he angrily accused the officials of bias.
Another Champions League Collapse
Following a dominant showing in Group Play and the first two rounds of the knockout stage, Barcelona lost by an aggregate score of 4-3 to Liverpool in the Champions League semifinals. While Messi certainly doesn’t bear much responsibility for his team’s collapse defensively, he’s definitely culpable for Barcelona failing to score in Liverpool’s stunning 4-0 victory in the second leg.
Making those historic matters worse is that a similar fate befell Barcelona one year prior. In the 2018 Champions League quarterfinals, Barcelona took a 4-1 lead over Roma heading into the second leg, only to be eliminated by virtue of away goals after a 3-0 shutout.
The Rise of Virgil van Dijk
Van Dijk was the best backline player in football last year, and it wasn’t especially close. The Dutch defender’s individual numbers pale in comparison to those of Messi, but that’s more a byproduct of the players’ wildly disparate roles on the pitch than evidence of the latter’s superiority.
He finished second in Ballon d’Or voting, beating out the likes of Ronaldo, Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and Kylian Mbappe. While that’s an incredible achievement by itself for any defender, Van Dijk’s overall influence on his club and international sides, Liverpool and the Netherlands, was second to none. Throughout his career, Messi’s leadership has been occasionally called into question; Van Dijk’s, meanwhile, is the driving force behind his teams’ surprising level of success.
Maybe next year. But considering Messi continues to postpone the inevitable arrival of Father Time, don’t count on it.