Is Lionel Messi hurting his own legacy by being too brilliant too regularly for Barcelona?

Winning La Liga titles and matches on his own is no longer enough for the demand of Fifa Best recognition, meaning he needs another Champions League to remind the world how good he is

Lionel Messi's career in 60 seconds

When Lionel Messi got back to the Barcelona camp this summer, many of the squad and staff noticed something different about his attitude. The Argentine is always so supremely driven in general, but this time seemed particularly focused; singularly focused.

Messi is utterly determined to win the Champions League again. It is now over three years since he has done so, and all at Barca are recognising a similar mindset as to when he fired the club to the trophy – and fired himself to maybe the peak of his career so far – in that 2014/15 season.

He has mentioned it repeatedly, both in private and in public, going so far as to bring it up at a captain’s speech he had to make and then returning to the subject unprompted in an interview with Catalunya Radio on Monday.

While Messi is renowned as the ultimate team player, those who know him say this does go beyond that now. He recognises the Champions League as crucial to his legacy.

That will have become all the more pointed and pained after Monday’s announcement that he again hadn’t made the shortlist for Fifa’s ‘The Best’ award.

It is the second time since 2016, suggesting a waning in the star’s current star power – let alone his historic standing.

That ‘star power’, however, is what much of this is about and why Messi’s absence from the podium is at least slightly perturbing. Much of it comes down to the rather hoary nature of how an award like this is voted for and how lacking in any kind of definition it is.

While ‘The Best’ has now split from the much weightier Ballon d’Or, the latter was generally won by players who someway crossed the following parameters:

1) the outright best player in the world

2) the players who win the biggest trophies

3) the best performing players

4) perhaps most importantly, the players who lifted their teams to levels they wouldn’t otherwise reach

Lionel Messi was absent from the Fifa Best shortlist for the second time in three years

And while it is true that Messi had a poor year internationally, again only reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League and suffering such an oddly underwhelming World Cup, it’s not like those on the podium cross too many of those parameters.

Mohamed Salah did leap to new levels in scoring so many goals to return Liverpool to the Champions League – but didn’t actually win anything.

Luka Modric won the Uefa Player of the Year award

Luka Modric probably has the greatest claim, having been the player who set Real Madrid’s entire style in their Champions League victory and Croatia’s finest performer in their sensational run to the World Cup final...but it’s impossible not to feel that he doesn’t quite have that star power, that glamour that is necessary in a popularity contest like this.

That is nowhere near the case with Cristiano Ronaldo, who is yet again the favourite, having yet again won the Champions League with Modric and Madrid. And yet this was also the Champions League victory where he arguably had less influence than ever before. The competition’s ultimate goalscorer, and what he has almost solely defined himself as now, failed to score a single goal after the quarter-finals.

Cristiano Ronaldo could win the award for a sixth time

Was he this time anywhere near as influential to that victory as Messi was to yet another Barcelona league win?

This is part of the issue with Messi’s standing and legacy right now, too. His brilliance has almost become too routine, too regular.

You only have to think of the many images of him doing the impossible from week to week, with the latest that sublime turn and finish against Huesca.

Mohamed Salah is the third name included on the Fifa Best shortlist

It has already reached the point where, in a competition like the league that is more insulated from individual events than knock-outs and thereby represents a true reflection of who actually is “the best”, it has become very difficult for anyone else to win it.

Barcelona have Messi, and thereby have the ultimate advantage. Over the course of 38 games, he will just do too much. This really isn't to be sniffed at. The consistency of outrageous quality is outstanding.

It has meant that, over the course of his 14 years as a first-team player, Barcelona have won nine titles. Over the course of his 10 years as their unmatched star player, they have won seven.

This is his true effect, and it’s all the more pronounced for a club that has actually struggled to win leagues for so much of their history. Messi has been involved in 36 per cent of their domestic titles, and 80 per cent – four of five – of their Champions League successes.

It’s just that the league is still seen as the routine, as something he should win, rather than something he has made routine; thereby transforming the historic rivalry between Madrid and Barcelona, too.

He himself now sees that, to reassert a historic legacy that had actually seemed lasting in 2015, he needs to win more Champions Leagues.

Lionel Messi may well be hurting his legacy by being consistently excellent

It will get him back on the podium, and restore an elevated place in the game’s pantheon.

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