When football’s leading coaches and team captains anoint the same man as the world’s best player for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year, then you know the recipient is a star of rare brilliance.
When that player takes the award despite an almost barren 2012 which saw him win neither the domestic league with his club, the Champions League nor an international trophy, then it becomes clear that he may be the brightest light that has ever shone on football’s galaxy.
‘He’ of course is Lionel Messi, and despite the lack of silverware — only the Copa del Rey nestles in his 2012 trophy cabinet — it would take someone wearing anti-Messi blinkers to dispute his right to the FIFA Ballon d’Or.
Just when you thought Messi could not get any better, could not improve on his wonderful, elusive and supremely skilful talent that saw him named as the world’s best in 2009, 2010 and 2011, he did so, and in some style.
He surpassed a record that has stood the test of time for 40 years, that of Gerd Muller’s 85 goals in a calendar year, and he didn’t just scrape past the milestone but smashed it: 91 goals in 2012. Phenomenal.
They included 12 goals for Argentina in 2012 in just nine games, nine hat-tricks and five goals in one Champions League match — the first player to achieve such a feat in the Champions League era.
What stood out from the goals is not so much their extravagance, but a supremely clinical demonstration by the 25-year-old of the art of goalscoring: no fuss, no risks, but sheer ability.
The master dribbler and creator supreme is now an assassin with a killer’s instinct. So how does he stand compared with the best of yester-year, a difficult one to gauge given that comparisons with players from a different era are notoriously suspect.
Pele has done his best to pour cold water on suggestions that Messi is already the best player of all time, and there is some substance to his claim that unlike himself and Diego Maradona, Messi has not done it in the World Cup, perhaps the toughest arena of all.
There is plenty of time for that: at least two more World Cups, maybe even three. But even if those World Cups prove elusive they would be no more than a jewel on an already glittering crown. To many, including myself, Messi’s combination of ability and humility has already secured him a permanent golden ball: he really is the greatest.