The votes have been counted, and after the Copa Libertadores was decided on Wednesday night, it’s time to reveal the real question all of Latin America wants answering: who, in the opinions of the readers of Hasta El Gol Siempre and Mundo Albiceleste, has been the best Argentine footballer playing in a non-Argentine league over the last season? I think you’ll find the answer very surprising. Ladies and gentlemen, drumroll please…
Lionel Andrés Messi is the HEGS / MA Best Argentine Abroad for 2008-2009. I told you you’d be surprised. After winning the inaugural HEGS award two years ago, and being pushed into third by Carlos Tevez and Sergio Agüero last year, Lio is back on top in 2009, thanks to an astonishing season with FC Barcelona.
After his early seasons at Barcelona were wracked by injury, there were two questions being asked about Messi this time last year: first, how good might he be if he were ever able to have a full season without a significant time out injured; secondly, after the hormone injections that some felt had damaged his legs by forcing him to grow beyond his body’s limits, would that ever happen?
2008-2009 gave us an emphatic ‘yes’ to the second question, and a spectacular demonstration in reply to the first. Ronaldinho having been sold to AC Milan, there was much discussion about who to give the coveted number 10 shirt to. Any other club would have gone for a big-name signing. Barcelona, knowing stability was required, handed it to 21-year-old Messi. He never looked back.
The story of Barcelona’s season, the most successful in the history of Spanish club football, is already known by everyone reading this, but still, let’s revisit a few of the numbers: champions of the league, Copa del Rey and European Cup (the first Spanish side to win the Treble); one-hundred-and-five goals in the league alone, with the first-choice front three of Messi, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry scoring 72 between them – more than any other club bar second-placed Real Madrid – and one hundred exactly in all competitions.
All season long, Messi has been one of the key men. Admirers of the midfielders’ art point towards Andrés Iniesta’s craft, whilst Eto’o continues to be one of the finest out-and-out goalscorers on the planet and the defence… well, they haven’t got a defence, but they conceded fewer than anyone else in La Liga anyway. Even so, Messi has been the man who summed up Barcelona this season, because without much of a change in personnel, and coming off the back of an implosion the previous term, Barcelona came of age.
Messi scored twenty-three goals in La Liga (fourth top scorer), nine in the European Cup (top scorer) and six in the Copa del Rey (third top scorer). Thirty-eight goals in fifty matches in all competitions, including Barcelona’s 5,000th ever in La Liga on the 1st of February away to Racing de Santander in a 2-1 win. Those goals started with a penalty against Racing de Santander in Camp Nou, and ended with a header – of all things! – against Manchester United in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
Now 22, Lionel Messi is only a few months older than Diego Maradona was when he signed for Barcelona. There are many who would suggest he’s a better player than Maradona was at that age – the question now is only how good he might become. Five years into his Barcelona career, we’ve finally had that uninterrupted season from Lionel Messi. It’s been a lot of fun.
Every goal Lionel Messi scored for FC Barcelona during the 2008-2009 season:
In joint second place in the award were the other three nominees, who garnered a vote each in the final round: Pablo Zabaleta of Manchester City, Christian Giménez of Pachuca, and Diego Milito of Genoa (now with Internazionale).
Due to its impending relaunch, I’ve been unable to contact Lionel Messi’s website to see if they’ve got any comment on the award as yet. When I’m able to, I’ll make any reply I get known.