Leo Still King Of The Jungle

Lionel Messi looked more sheepish than Philipp Lahm, more embarrassed than a Brazilian defender when collecting his Golden Ball Award for best player at this World Cup.

The entire planet – the football nuts who savour this tournament, the previously ambivalent who now know how to pronounce James if you’re Colombian, and the hardline anti-football zealots who’ve constantly tweeted about every match, if not watched them – were probably as discomforted as he was.

Every one of the aforementioned groups will have a gaping hole in their schedules on Monday night that the likes of Iran v Nigeria often filled. Even if the two to four hours are merely spent reacquainting themselves with the remote control, after their partner’s hogged it for a month while shouting at Robbie Savage on the telly.

It was clear there were several more worthy winners of this individual accolade in the final alone – Schweinsteiger, Muller, Lahm , Neuer and Mascherano amongst them. And Messi knew it. We knew it. He’s already said the accolade “means nothing” to him.

The thing is, it means nothing to anyone who takes football seriously. Diego Forlan won it at the last World Cup.

But he’s still the best player in the world, no? Who’s taken his mantle at this tournament? A veteran American keeper? A Costa Rican not yet good enough for Arsenal’s bench? A promising Colombian who plays in front of 5,000 at Monaco? Come on.

Messi collected four man of the match awards at this tournament, scored four goals and assisted another, in other words he’d a hand in almost two-thirds of the runner-up’s total goals haul. Yet he was clearly a shadow of his former self, with rumours of fatigue surfacing in the run-up the final. Indeed, the talisman was captured on camera vomiting during the first half of the final.

But a shadow of Messi’s former self is still better than most of his contemporaries at their best. If we’re basing the trajectory of star player’s careers on their form at this tournament then Cristiano Ronaldo must be close to retirement.

Yet it’s too early to dismiss Messi’s career as being on the wane. Sure, he’s been a victim of Barcelona’s fall from their peak but he still scored 41 goals for the club during a supposedly sub-par season just gone.

If there is any doubt that Messi is the player of this generation, check this video out.

It’s a collection of his top 50 goals, from 2004 to 2013. And it was hard to choose. As there were over 350 of them. I started watching it and wanted to fast-forward from goal 30 to check out what had made the top ten. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t miss out on 20 peaches. Goals that if someone else had scored even one of, they’d be immediately linked with a move to Real Madrid.

He may not have contributed strikes at Brazil 14 that’ll supplant any of the crackers on this video, but there’ll be plenty in years ahead. James Rodriguez’s second against Uruguay might just scrape into to this fifty.

Messi might be past his best. But he’s still the best. And we’re lucky to have him.