Messi was still magical

This was the year that Lionel Messi finally won a major international trophy for Argentina. Yes, he had an Olympic gold medal already. But it was his inability to inspire the senior side to go all the way at a tournament that was so frequently held against him.

Messi was brilliant in Brazil. He was the Copa America top scorer with four goals but also registered the most assists five of them. Against Ecuador in the quarter-final, he cleverly set up each of the first two goals before scoring the third himself.

That free-kick was one of two scored by Messi at the Copa – more than were scored by everyone at Euro 2020 combined. They were among his 15 goals scored from outside the penalty box in 2021. As his pace deserts him, other qualities have come to the fore.

His form for Barcelona during the first half of the year should not be forgotten. He scored 28 goals in 29 games, including two in a man-of-the-match performance to win the Copa del Rey in April. The team was not functioning at its best, but he remained remarkable.

Messi has made a less compelling case since swapping Barcelona for Paris, but there was still that solo goal in the win over Manchester City and two more against RB Leipzig. Only this weekend he delivered a hat-trick of assists in PSG’s 3-1 win over Saint Etienne.

Messi was still magical

It is natural to feel sympathy for Robert Lewandowski, a victim of that curious decision not to present an award in 2020. But the biggest reason to feel sorry for those men chasing individual prizes is they have the misfortune to be doing so in the era of Messi.

For some, there is a sense of fatigue at seeing him claim the Ballon d’Or for a seventh time. But sustained excellence can hardly be held against him. The Messi of a decade ago may well have been superior to the Messi of today. In 2021, there has been no man better.