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

His goal was nominated in the FIFA Puskas Award’s 10-long shortlist. “I have not seen any player like Messi in the history of football,” said Betis coach Quique Setien. “His goal was something you do playing Playstation.”

After finishing the Champions League as top scorer with 12 goals and collecting his sixth Golden Shoe for a record third consecutive year, Messi joined up with Argentina for the Copa America, a tournament that kickstarted a frustrating three months for the 32-year-old.

Messi was sent off against Chile in the third-place play-off and his comments about the refereeing drew him a three-month suspension from international football.

A return to Barcelona should have offered some respite but Messi suffered a calf injury on the first day of pre-season before a thigh strain meant he would not begin playing regularly again until October.

Yet he made up for lost time by scoring six goals in five games and then a hat-trick against Celta Vigo, this time a treble made up of set-pieces, two from free-kicks and one a penalty.

It was his 34th hat-trick in La Liga, equalling Ronaldo’s record in the Spanish top flight.

Free-kicks have become an increasingly potent weapon for Messi and his improvement is more evidence of a player still adding to his skill-set in what can be assumed will be his twilight years.

“It’s clear that when games are close we have the advantage of having the best player in the world and the best free-kick taker in the world,” said Barca midfielder Sergio Busquets.

Another milestone came at the end of November when his goal and two assists in a 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund coincided with his 700th appearance for Barcelona. On Sunday, he scored the winner in a 1-0 victory at Atletico Madrid.

Barcelona insist they have plans for coping with Messi’s dreaded retirement but the truth is their number 10 will be irreplaceable.

He has unfulfilled ambitions too, including another Champions League crown, not to mention an elusive major trophy with Argentina. Despite it all, Messi is not finished yet.

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