The world player of the year’s nod in the direction of the shortlisted midfielder who finished third in the voting for the third year running is like the decision to slide a perfectly-weighted pass across goal for a tap-in when others less humble may go for glory themselves. It’s all about the team.
Messi was always going to win his third straight crown. Cristiano Ronaldo opted not to travel to Zurich for the ceremony ahead of his side’s Copa del Rey trip to Malaga the day after, but nobody would have blamed the Portugal international if he had cited the improbability of him pipping Messi to the award as the real reason for his absence.
Messi dazzled in 2011, scoring 53 goals in all competitions and helping Barcelona seal La Liga and Champions League glory last term. The 24-year-old left the experts with no choice and he swept away the competition by claiming over 47 per cent of the final vote.
His dedication of the award to Xavi was, it seems, pre-planned. His vote as Argentina captain was for the Spain midfielder, with AndrÃ©s Iniesta and Sergio Aguero his second and third selections. “I knew that if I won I was going to do it this way,” he said after receiving the accolade. “We’ve been playing together for many years and he deserves it because every year he plays better and better and we have a very special relationship.”
Messi’s is an individual accolade but it’s a team game and Barcelona’s title as the best around is not up for debate. Sir Alex Ferguson, who was pipped to the coach of the year prize by Guardiola but received the presidential award for services to football has no doubts that BarÃ§a are setting the standards. “Sometimes in football you have to hold your hands up and say: â€˜yes, they are better than usâ€™. Itâ€™s not a crime or a weakness, itâ€™s just a plain fact.”
And the Manchester United boss, whose side were defeated in the Champions League final for the second time by Guardiola’s men last year, admits the Catalan giants’ focus on bringing youth players through their academy and into their first team has paid dividends.
“It’s the perfect philosophy,” he said. “From my experience of producing our own players, you get loyalty all your life from them. They appreciate the start you’ve given them and the development – and they become friends.
“For instance, the great group we had in the 90s of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers are great friends – they’re always with each other. It’s an amazing friendship to have and that’s what you get when you produce your own players. They stay with each other all their lives. It’s much cheaper too.”
With Barcelona having secured a five-trophy haul in 2011 and Pep Guardiola’s silverware tally now standing at 13 since he took charge at the Camp Nou in 2008, the question often asked of the Catalan giants is: what now?
For Messi, the answer is simple. “I want to win the same trophies that we did last year. That is the greatness of this team. We have won so much, but we still want to win more.”
But does Guardiola face a challenge in keeping his players motivated? No, according to the coach himself. “These kind of players, like Xavi, Leo and AndrÃ©s, they are complete competitors,” he said. “It isn’t necessary for the coach to motivate them. They love the game and every season they love to touch the ball. That’s why they have the motivation to remain on top.”
ENHANCED ODDS: 9/1 on Liverpool, Atletico and Villarreal