Lionel Messi’s reclaiming of the FIFA Ballon d’Or, his fifth, may go down as Fifa’s brightest moment in a year of scandal and shame. Perhaps in keeping with some notion of poetic justice in footballing parlance, Messi beating Cristiano Ronaldo to the award closed the cycle that began with Ronaldo winning the Ballon last year, albeit deservingly. It’s Fifa that would like to forget the year that’s been. But Messi’s triumph marks another closure — his return to the top, in form, burying for good the spectre of the dwindling star after the disappointment of the 2014 World Cup final. Critics persist in attributing Messi’s success to his partnership with Luis Suarez and Neymar in the Barca attack and hold up his less impressive international performances as evidence. Yet, the 2014-15 season has been Messi’s above all.
After a shaky start, he won the treble — La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey — with Barcelona, scoring 48 goals for his club and 52 overall. Through it all, Messi has dazzled with his dribbling, passing, assists and a reignited hunger to force the opposition into total submission.
While a fifth Ballon is unprecedented, between them, Messi and Ronaldo have won the last eight, six of those after France Football’s Ballon d’Or and the Fifa World Player of the Year awards were merged in 2010. The voters — journalists, national coaches, captains — did well to give the Puskas award for the best goal to Brazilian club player Wendell Lira, and not Messi, for his spinning bicycle kick. Their choice of Carli Lloyd as the women’s world player of the year was a fitting tribute to her hat-trick against Japan in the World Cup final.
Fifa galas, known for hype and being overdone, seldom redeem themselves, and the outlandish tuxedos of the players don’t help. If they needed a sobering down, it had to be with a dose of substance. Messi has provided just that.