Messi takes leadership in his stride to clinch sixth Ballon d’Or

Madrid (AFP) – Lionel Messi won a record-breaking sixth Ballon d’Or on Monday after another sublime year for the Argentinian, whose familiar brilliance remained undimmed even through difficult times for club and country.

Despite Barcelona’s collapse at the end of last season and Argentina losing to Brazil in the semi-finals of the Copa America, Messi’s genius was ever-present in 2019, for which he now stands alone in the history of the game’s most prestigious individual prize.

Four years after his last Ballon d’Or, Messi pulled clear of the five next to the name of Cristiano Ronaldo, and now owns twice as many as Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini and Marco van Basten.

In 54 appearances this year, Messi has managed an astonishing 46 goals and 17 assists while for Barca alone he hit 41 goals and 15 assists in 44 matches, which included seven doubles and three hat-tricks.

“It’s like he is extra-terrestrial,” said Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde in March. “Every time he gets the ball something extraordinary seems to happen.”

Messi’s first season as club captain brought a third consecutive La Liga title and he scored the winner in the game that clinched it, a 1-0 victory over Levante.

He also claimed his sixth Pichichi Trophy as the division’s top scorer, with 36 goals in 34 matches.

But Barcelona unravelled as their 3-0 advantage over Liverpool — to which Messi contributed a brace — went up in smoke at Anfield and the club crashed out in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

They were then beaten by Valencia in the final of the Copa del Rey, when Messi’s tap-in proved a consolation, but it was his voice that spoke loudest in defence of coach Valverde, whose survival owed much to the support of his captain.

Messi had led the way on the pitch too, particularly during the run-in when he scored 16 goals in 12 games as Barcelona put together a relentless winning streak.

“This league has one person’s name on it,” wrote Diario Sport.

– 50th career hat-trick –

He scored his 50th career hat-trick in a 4-2 win at Sevilla and in April, another hat-trick began with a free-kick into the top corner and ended with a sweeping chip from the edge of the area that was so good even the Real Betis fans felt compelled to applaud.

When asked about their reaction, Messi said: “To be honest I don’t remember anything like that.”

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