Equal Time: Lionel Messi's sixth Ballon d'Or settles GOAT debate
Background photo: 1997, CC BY-SA 3.0
It all began when Cristiano Ronaldo won his first Ballon d'Or in 2008. In becoming the first Premier League player to claim the award, he made history, claiming it on the back of a successful season in which he won the Champions League title with Manchester United.
A year later, Barcelona stormed United in the final in Rome. Samuel Eto'o and Andres Iniesta scored the goals in a 2-0 victory but Messi's work over the entire campaign was rewarded with the Ballon d'Or that year to kick-start what has grown to become the greatest rivalry between two players in football history. No one else won the award for a decade. Messi raced ahead over the next few years but Ronaldo caught up with him at five triumphs in 2017. Fans continue to split their opinions as to which is the better player.
When Luka Modric emerged victorious at the FIFA award's gala last year, it looked like a new dawn had arrived. Fans thought the battle was over. Messi had other ideas. Unwilling to settle for a draw, Leo produced a perfect response to his omission from the 2018 shortlist. He took his game to an extraordinary level last season, tearing opposition defences to pieces in the Champions League and at the domestic level. He finished as the top scorer in La Liga and across Europe's top-five leagues with 36 goals from 34 appearances. His 12 Champions League goals also led the way in that tournament. The Argentine concluded the term with the most assists in Europe  and was highly influential as Barcelona defended their Liga title. Although the Blaugrana slumped at the end of the term, dropping the Copa del Rey and falling to Liverpool in the Champions League semifinal, his brilliance was enough to overshadow that setback.
Courtesy of those efforts, Messi was able to defeat Redsdefender Virgil Van Dijk and his eternal rival, Ronaldo, to claim the Ballon d'Or award a sixth time. That triumph represents a massive feat for him in his long-standing rivalry with his Portuguese rival.
The Barca captain now has six Ballon d'Or honours in his cabinet, one more than Ronaldo. It all but settles the debate between the two superstars. The Ballon d'Or is the most coveted individual award in football. By going one ahead of his counterpart, the Barca maestro has proved once again that he has no equal. He's taken a well-deserved lead and it doesn't look like there will be any upset anytime.
Let's not forget that Messi is already 32 and Ronaldo is 34. The bitter truth needs to be accepted. Neither has many more years to spend at the top. This might be the last hurrah for both.
Some may argue the Portuguese can catch his counterpart once again. Those talks lack a solid base when you consider how much the Juventus talisman has declined in the past few years. Ronaldo hasn't reached 30 league goals for the past three years. Even in his favoured Champions League, he only recorded six goals last season.
Messi stands the better chance of adding to his tally. The Argentine is in an extraordinary form right now. following up on last term when he bagged 51 goals and 22 assists, he's taken off once again with 11 and eight from 14 appearances this term. Either way, he has already proved he is the GOAT.