Leo Messi won about a dozen annual awards in 2009, Spanish and international, individual and with his club, then on Monday he was formally recognized by FIFA and UEFA as the world player of the year. It was a correct decision, as Messi’s accolades are justified. He is a tremendous player who, at only 22, can be proud of sensational accomplishments. Yet even after the unanimous decision, there are still considerable voices among distinguished players and coaches who consider Messi a very good player, but not the best in the world.
Messi has dazzled at times, though he has not been as consistently dominant as previous winners of the award. His displays on the Argentine national team have been less than impressive. But at club level he has been nothing short of spectacular, perhaps reminiscent of the Ronaldinho of 2005-2006, even scoring in Rome against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United. Considering Barcelona’s historic campaign, winning six! titles in 2009, Messi was an obvious front-runner for the award.
But an enormously understated reason for Barcelona’s incredible success, as everyone at the club knows, are the club’s two home grown wonder-kinds, Xavi and Iniesta. These two players represent the engine, the brain and the personality of the club. They have developed into incredibly talented and intelligent field generals, yet continue to be just as incredibly modest. In this day of extreme commercialism, they are a gift to the game. They play with the joy of a child and seem happy to do so for money or passion. As products of the club’s academy, Barcelona Futbol Club is their identity. Like Messi, they seem entirely devoted and dedicated to the club on and off the field.
Many around the world have taken note during the past year and it is increasingly clear how valuable Xavi and Iniesta are to Barcelona’s success. Barca players – Messi above all – know this. Messi shines in his combinations with Xavi and Iniesta, as they control, open spaces and distribute stupendously. Rooney walked of the field in Rome in absolute awe of Iniesta, stating after the match that Iniesta was the best player he had ever encountered. Remember that Cristiano Ronaldo was his team-mate, while Messi was Iniesta’s, at the time.
Who is better among Messi, Iniesta and Xavi? For now, the world has voted for Messi, but only Guardiola, who gets to see these players every day, really knows this answer. We are fortunate to be treated to their magic at the week-end.