Lionel Messi staking claim for 7th Ballon d'Or in his most turbulent season ever

 Lionel Messi is in pursuit of his seventh Ballon d'Or

Lionel Messi is no stranger to being in the headlines, but in the 2020/21 season he was there for all the wrong reasons.

Sure, he was doing bits on every football pitch he graced, but that was nothing new. Instead, people were more bothered about his contract and his future. He's never faced this level of speculation and there has even been plenty of criticism towards his enormous financial demands.

His failed move away from the club last summer has distracted from his talents. For the first time in years, the concept of 'Messi' was not just footballing royalty, but rather pure, unadulterated chaos, and that clearly took its toll in the early months of the campaign.

Between September and December 2020, Messi scored in just three of his nine La Liga games. He wasn't himself at all. Was he even worth all the fuss anymore?

Well, judging by his form in 2021, he's arguably worth even more than ever before.

Messi turned his 2020/21 season around

In front of a chaotic backdrop, Messi has absolutely dominated the globe over the past seven months. He has put together a laundry list of ridiculous performances, stealing the show for both club and country with alarming regularity.

At club level, it's safe to say that 90% of the reason Barcelona have enjoyed any optimism over the past few months is because of Messi. 23 goals and eight assists in 21 games led Barcelona back into the La Liga title battle and had them within weeks of the most unlikely triumph in years.

For Argentina, he has reached a new height, ripping it up at the Copa America in the hope of finally winning his first major honour with his country. This could finally be the year.

Barcelona would not have been in the La Liga title picture without him, and Argentina's chances of Copa America glory would be slim if he wasn't there. No player in the world has been more important to their club and their country than Messi.

He's looked like a man possessed at times, seemingly determined to make up for the time lost towards the end of 2020. Messi knew he blew the chance to win his seventh Ballon d'Or last year - though the award was ultimately not handed out - but he's going all-out this time around.

This time last year, the idea of Messi winning his seventh shiny gold ball was crazy. He was underperforming, visibly distracted and some fans even suggested he was finished.

Now, he has to be seen as one of the favourites to win the award, and the lack of silverware at club level shouldn't make any difference.

It speaks volumes of Messi's talents that he has managed to turn things around so emphatically. Life could hardly have been worse for him when he started 2020/21, and he needed just four months to figure himself out, rediscovering superstardom and looking like he hadn't skipped a beat.

Messi came back with a bang

His reward for all his hard work may not have been a La Liga title or Champions League glory, but it absolutely should be yet another Ballon d'Or. Messi has been absolutely unplayable in 2021, taking the kind of importance even he isn't used to.

There are a lot of players who have done their best to match him - Robert Lewandowski and N'Golo Kante both look like early candidates - but what Messi has been doing is otherworldly. It's Ballon d'Or material.

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