It’s not just the winner of the Golden Foot that will be announced on the day UEFA announce the group stage draw for the Champions League, but the winner of the Best Player in Europe Award.
Instituted in 2011, the award replaced the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year Award and is also meant to take the place of the Ballon D’Or, which was merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year in 2010.
The award is given to a player regarded to have been the best in his previous season of football. Irrespective of nationality, the award is only given to players who ply their trade in Europe.
This season, in addition to the much-expected presence of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Bayern Munich winger Franck Ribery has made it to the final round of elimination for the coveted prize.
Lionel Messi: what did he do last season?
Messi swept up the Primera Liga’s pichichi award last season with an eye-watering 60 goals in all competitions. But with Barcelona breaking records in 2012-13, Messi’s sixty goals only counted for 46% of Barcelona’s goals last season.
But all Barca had to show for their attacking flair last season was the 2012-13 Liga title. They were infamously knocked out of the Champions League in a 7-0 humiliation by current holders Bayern Munich and were defeated 3-1 by Real Madrid at the Nou Camp as they were knocked out of the King’s Cup.
But Barcelona’s dependence on Messi seems to stem from good reason: he converted 29.7% of the chances he was presented with, or nearly a third of those that came his way. Taking a step back to do the math here that would mean that Messi had more than a hundred and eighty scoring opportunities over the course of last season.
That chance conversion rate is a five per cent jump from what it was the previous season while the net percentage of team goals that he scores has jumped up from 35% in 2009-10 to 46% last season, which shows how quickly he has occupied centre stage for the azulgrana, despite constant changes in team structure since then.
That shows, in a nutshell, how efficient he is as a player.
But it isn’t just the contributions with the football that makes Messi such a fearsome player. It is his very presence on the pitch that encourages his team mates to do better, whether it is for club or country.
With Argentina, he leapfrogged Diego Maradona – the man many have likened Messi to in terms of style of play, having labelled him his successor – on Argentina’s list of all-time top goal scorers and he is now joint second with Hernan Crespo and behind Gabriel Batistuta.
But the psychological presence that Messi commands is also one that strikes fears into opponents. In the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Barcelona were trailing 1-0 to Paris Saint-Germain at the Nou Camp and looked short of ideas, until Messi, who was still not fit, having picked up an injury in France, coming off the bench to help them equalise and send them to the semi-finals of the competition.
What did he win?
Sadly, Messi only added one trophy to his bulging collection last season.
His Barcelona team broke records en route to winning the Primera Liga title, scoring 115 goals and reaching 100 points.
He also broke several records en route, including Gerd Muller’s records of the most number of goals scored in a calendar year (85) and the most number of goals scored in a season (67).
For his scoring achievements (46 in La Liga), he was given the season’s Pichichi award.
Why Messi should win the award
Messi is the best player in the world right now. That he has tirelessly delivered the goods for Barcelona, despite years on end without a substantial summer break because of his international commitments show how dedicated he is to the cause.
The focal point of a Barcelona team that has changed the way the world plays football, Messi’s presence in the team is one of the reasons (if not the primary reason) for the attacking successes of tiki-taka.
Despite all he has won, his best years are ahead of him and he is sure to scale greater heights.
Could he win the Best Player in Europe Award?
The traditionalists’ support has always been with Messi, but this time, his chances for doing so are diminished by the presence of the excellent Franck Ribery.
That Barcelona at times look clueless without Messi in their ranks is also cause for concern and that is something both he and the coaches at the club will need to resolve.
While he is still one of the favourites to win the award, he is in no way a frontrunner to be crowned last season’s Best Player in Europe.