The Catalan giants have had unparalleled success over the past several seasons, as has the Argentine superstar. Messi’s accomplishments have resulted in three consecutive Ballon d’Or awards.
The 2013 award may not be handed out for another 10 months, but Messi’s chances to win the award for a fourth time hinges on the team’s upcoming showdown with AC Milan.
If Barça cannot find a way to erase a 2-0 deficit from the first leg of the matchup, it will be eliminated before the semifinals for the first time since 2007.
While the Ballon d’Or is an individual award, the success of the winner’s team plays a major role in the decision. Messi actually received a lower percentage of the vote in 2012 (41.60) after setting several scoring records than he did in 2011 (47.88).
The major difference between his performances in the past two seasons is that Barcelona won Champions League and La Liga two years ago while finishing second in its domestic league and losing in the UCL semifinals this past year.
There are only two plausible explanations for Messi receiving fewer votes after breaking Gerd Muller’s records for goals in a European season and goals in a calendar year in 2012: First, the voters see team success as a crucial part of the selection process, and second, they are just tired of Messi winning every year.
Either way, losing to Milan in the first round of the knockout stage will severely damage Messi’s chances to win the award in 2013.
If team success is a vital part of a Ballon d’Or winner’s résumé, then an early European exit will be a black mark that will be extremely difficult for the 25-year-old to overcome.
If the voters have grown bored of Messi’s success, then they will be looking for any excuse to choose someone else. Losing to Milan would certainly provide them with this opportunity.
Ultimately, the relative lack of team success is the more likely motivation for voters to choose players other than Messi.
This year, his historic goal-scoring rate made him the clear choice for the award. But considering that he is the only player in European football to ever find the back of the net with such regularity, it would be unwise to bet on him to repeat his offensive accomplishments from 2012.
Barcelona needs to do well in Champions League for Messi’s Ballon d’Or streak to continue, making the second leg against Milan a vastly important match.