Six reasons why Lionel Messi is the world's best
In a career of many milestones, Lionel Messi celebrated another -- his 28th birthday -- on Wednesday. To mark the occasions, here are the six things that make the Barcelona and Argentina star so special.
1. Scorer supreme
Messi is pretty much infallible in front of goal and even on the rare occasion when he is off his game, he isn't afraid to continue attempting shots until he finally gets his reward -- as proved by the 261 shots he needed to score his 56 goals last season.
His impressive skillset includes powerful strikes from long range, lightning quick shots from inside the area and even gentle tap-ins after dribbling the opposing keeper with mesmerising composure.
Messi Moment: 412 goals since his professional debut
It is virtually impossible to decide on his best ever effort in front of goal. Having said that, his iconic run against Getafe in the 2007 Copa del Rey semifinals instantly springs to mind as his most memorable -- and rightly so, after a dazzling run past six opponents, of which his idol Diego Armando Maradona would have been proud.
2. Dynamic dribbler
Stars such as Hristo Stoitchkov, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho helped the Catalans become synonymous with beautiful football, effectiveness upfront and, above all, a winning club for rivals to fear.
However, the Camp Nou has never witnessed a talent of Messi's calibre. Just when the Barcelona faithful begin to think his dribbling slaloms couldn't possibly get any more mesmerising, there pops the No.10 again with yet another better, bigger, more deadly magic trick.
Messi Moment: The opening goal in the Copa del Rey final
Messi's opener in the Copa del Rey final still has Cules shaking their heads in a combination of disbelief and endless admiration. Despite receiving the ball near the halfway line, he decided to burst forward with jaw-dropping acceleration, using unstoppable dribbles and capping it off with an inch-perfect finish.
3. Not just a scorer
La Pulga's privileged vision and passing ability also deserve a mention. If the celebrated Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar trident have just completed a record-breaking 120-goal season, it is not only thanks to Messi's 58 goals, but also the 31 assists he gifted his attacking partners with.
Messi Moment: Letting Neymar take a penalty vs. Cordoba
His unselfishness is a sign of the generous, mature leader that he has become in recent times, following the example of legends such as Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez. Although not many gave it much importance at the time, his gesture to allow Neymar to take the penalty against Cordoba in round 35 of La Liga in order to boost the Brazilian's confidence speaks for itself.
4. Playing smart
Although Messi continues to excel when running at defenders, his game has evolved significantly since he had a string of muscular injuries in 2013. As a result, he now prefers to pick and choose the ideal moment to burst forward with blistering runs.
This recent, more methodical approach caused some surprising criticism initially but, in fact, those moments recharging batteries, keeping his head up and internalising everyone else's movements are in fact essential to ensure that he catches rivals unaware once he identifies a weakness in their back-line.
Messi Moment: Curling one in against Sevilla
La Pulga did not have his best ever game at the Sanchez Pizjuan in round 31 of La Liga, but that certainly did not stop him from helping the Catalans earn a crucial 2-2 draw with a precise curling shot from the right wing following a sudden run into space.
5. Consummate professional
Contrary to what opponents may believe at first sight, Messi is an incredibly strong player who takes his physical preparation and diet seriously, especially in recent times.
The No.10's mental strength is equally impressive. Even though he is expected to excel in every appearance for both club and country, always put a brave smile in front of the cameras whatever question he may be faced with and even accept opponents' constant tackles without even complaining, Messi is capable of staying calm under pressure.
Messi Moment: Withstanding the Atletico wolves
Case in point was Atletico Madrid's strategy of being physical with Messi in the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals in late January. It backfired for Diego Simeone's men, as Messi remained focused and was instrumental in helping Neymar score the winner which, ultimately, ended up bringing the title back to the Catalan capital.
6. Messi the leader
If the Barcelona community are still immersed in an ocean of euphoria after an impressive Treble-winning season, it is definitely thanks to the way in which La Pulga adapted his game to accommodate world-class teammates Neymar and Suarez into the team's attacking formation.
Messi was never a self-centred player, but his transition towards a more mature, nurturing leader has been particularly obvious in the last 12 months.
We will never know if such change was caused by a suggestion from manager Luis Enrique upon the former Celtic boss' arrival at the Camp Nou last summer, or his desire to bounce back after Argentina's loss in the World Cup final, or maybe simply a result of being in a much happier place on a personal level. To be honest, it doesn't matter. The profound improvement speaks for itself.
Messi Moment: Soaking up the Treble
No longer the timid youngster in the corner who used to hide away from the cameras in social events, Messi was seen truly enjoying the celebrations during Barcelona's Treble-winning parade at the end of the season, with all his teammates clearly eager to share the moment alongside the team's spiritual leader both on and off the pitch.