“Will the real Lionel Messi please stand up? I repeat will the..” Oh, there you are, Lionel.
This summer the four-time World Player of the Year has dazzled on the biggest stage of all, finally, by scoring four times in Argentina’s three group stage games.
Before the 2014 World Cup tournament, Messi had only scored once in 10 WC games after failing to take the 2006 and 2010 tournaments by storm. Now he’s the main man for La Albiceleste as they won Group F at a canter and Messi is the joint-top scorer at the tournament.
[ WATCH: Messi scores stunning free kick vs. Nigeria ]
Many question marks surrounded the FC Barcelona star before this summer’s tournament, as his injury-hit season in La Liga saw him fall behind Cristiano Ronaldo in the pecking order as the best player in the world. After a stunning free kick vs. Nigeria, a last-gasp wondergoal which grabbed Argentina a vital 1-0 win over Iran and four goals total, Messi is rising back to the top as the star of the 2014 World Cup so far.
However purely from stats, Messi was coming into the World Cup following his worst season in front of goal for Barca in five seasons. During the 2013-14 La Liga campaign he scored 28 goals in 31 games and played in just 2503 minutes, his lowest total since 2008. It was also the first time since 2008 that Messi scored less that 30 goals in a single season. By his supremely high standards, it wasn’t the best year of his career.
Hamstring and thigh injuries limited his appearances — after missing a large chunk of the campaign, it actually seems like Messi is rejuvenated and rested — and with Ronaldo ripping it up with Real Madrid, Messi lost his FIFA Ballon d’Or crown to the Portuguese superstar. Officially, Messi was no longer the greatest player in the world.
After a blistering start to the 2014 World Cup, Messi seems to be hellbent on replacing Ronaldo at the top of the global game. In stark contrast, Ronaldo has looked unfit, struggled for form and despite the one world class ball for Portugal’s late, late equalizer vs. the USA, he has been a shadow of his usual self. That, coupled with Messi’s electric start, has seen the Argentine star rise to the top once again.
Will that last throughout the World Cup and into the next season?
Slowly but surely, it seems as though Messi is reclaiming his throne as the king of soccer.