Lionel Messi proved he's the best ever, in the biggest sport, at a time when the standards have never been higher
It could be argued 2015 will be remembered as the year Lionel Messi proved without any doubt he's the best footballer of all time.
The sight of Lionel Messi making Jerome Boateng drop like a sack of spuds before lifting the ball over the onrushing Manuel Neuer, the best goalkeeper in the world, from a tight angle on his weaker foot, was breathtaking.
I instantly went on to Twitter and soon lost count of the amount of tweets expressing shock at the skill Messi just displayed.
Other than Shane Long's goal against Germany, I can't remember ever been stunned into silence by a goal.
Recordar é viver... O gol de Messi contra o Bayern pela Liga dos Campeões. pic.twitter.com/JyThilD0fs
— Na Redonda (@FutNaRedonda) December 4, 2015
At the start of 2015, Messi appeared out of sorts. On January 4th Barcelona lost to David Moyes' Real Sociedad, and reports emerged of a rift between him and manager Luis Enrique.
¡Buenos días! Aquí os dejamos nuestra portada de este miércoles: "Ruptura" pic.twitter.com/8NmoBcmIJJ
— Diario SPORT (@sport) January 7, 2015
This followed on from the previous summer's World Cup, where Messi appeared jaded, and many said we were seeing the end of the spectacular phase of his career. We would now see a more refined, conservative Messi.
We were fools to doubt him.
His feats during 2015 convinced me Messi is the greatest footballer ever. In 60 games for club and country during 2015, Messi scored 51 goals and had 26 assists.
However, it is redundant to merely measure his performances by numbers. For example, of his second against Bayern, or this incredible goal against Athletic Bilbao.
Even by Messi's standards, this goal in the Cop del Rey final is astonishing. This wasn't Diego Maradona being chased by pasty Englishmen in the sweltering heat of Mexico City in the World Cup in 1986, a goal considered by many to be the greatest in the history of the tournament.
Or Michael Owen dribbling by two players, also in a World Cup game between England and Argentina, and being declared as the second coming of Christ by the English press.
Messi destroyed, single-handedly, the only team to deny Barcelona silverware in 2015, directly beating six players for the goal. A few weeks after making a show of two World Cup winners in a game that represented, in terms of the talent on display, the pinnacle of football.
Even if we were to forget about his goals for a moment, just look at Pep Guardiola's reaction to Messi's series of nutmegs on poor James Milner.
Guardiola, a man so intense he's walked away from two of the finest club sides in recent memory to avoid burnout, was, for a second, like a child again, reacting with wonder, and joy, to a brilliant piece of skill.
The debate about who’s better, him or Cristiano Ronaldo, has been made seem ridiculous over the past year. The Real Madrid forward is a phenomenon. He has broken records at one of the world’s most successful, and most demanding, clubs and possesses an incredible drive, and work ethic, that made it possible to be crowned the best player in the world three times.
However, one can’t help but get the sense the whole ‘Messi v Ronaldo’ faux-conflict is a bit of a construct and that has been effectively de-constructed this year. Ronaldo has been positioned as the Darth Vader to the humble farm-boy Luke Skywalker persona of Lionel Messi. It is as though Messi had to have a rival, and Ronaldo was perfect foil.
The extrovert versus the introvert, Real Madrid v Barcelona, arrogance versus humility, Adidas versus Nike, Fly Emirates versus Qatar Airways. However, despite the urge to set the two players as adversaries, the awkward truth is that Ronaldo, despite all his qualities and his records, just isn't on the same level as Messi.
That isn't a slight against Ronaldo, it’s just that no-one can come close to Lionel Messi, and arguably no-one ever has or will again.
The second half of 2015 hasn't been as productive as the stunning six-month spell between January and June for Messi. Defeat on penalties to Chile in the final of the Copa America saw a second international final loss in a year for Argentina. While injury kept him out between September and November.
Some may argue that Messi has to win an international tournament to be considered the greatest footballer ever.
By such logic, if Gonzalo Higuain doesn't miss a sitter or a penalty in the shoot-out, and Argentina went on to win the Copa America final, only then can Messi be considered the best ever.
People who hold such a view are best ignored.
The problem with writing about Messi at this point is what else is there to say? How can one begin to convey his brilliance in a new way?
What's the level above genius?
However, the true joy of Messi lies in what he represents. He's the best player ever in the biggest, and by far, most competitive sport in the world at a time when the standards have never been higher.
His humble upbringing, and small physical stature means he would arguably never have been able to thrive in some other field sports.
Messi, if born in this part of the world, wouldn't have gone to the right school to play rugby for Leinster, and would've been muscled out of a game of Gaelic football.
However, football provided him with the stage to express his phenomenal talent. Messi's genius with the ball at his feet is all that matters.
Although he's showing no signs of decline, how much longer can the 28-year-old continue to perform to such astonishing levels? And who will ever be able to match him?
Take every chance you can to watch him play in 2016.