Unrivaled Excellence: Analyzing Messi’s Continued Presence on the FIFA Best Player Awards Shortlist

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World Cup winners Lionel Messi is up for yet another FIFA best player awards. /CFP

It seems like a deja vu that echoes through the footballing world. The FIFA best player of the year award for 2023 will once again witness a weary battle among the familiar faces of Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Erling Haaland.

The announcement of the shortlist on Thursday night mirrored the same top three contenders for the Ballon d’Or prize, which Messi claimed just a couple months ago in October. From an initial pool of 12 players, the trio emerged as the cream of the crop ahead of the awards ceremony in London on January 15, 2024.

This year’s accolade covers the period from December 19, 2022, a day after the 2022 World Cup final, to August 20, 2023. It’s worth noting that Messi had already won the 2022 FIFA award for his exceptional performances in Qatar, where he led Argentina to their first world title in 36 years.

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Kylian Mbappe (L), Lionel Messi (C) and Erling Haaland (R) have been shortlisted for the FIFA best player of the year award for 2023. /CFP

At the age of 36, the Argentine maestro has stepped away from the spotlight, trading the fiercely competitive European scene for the sun-kissed shores of Miami in South Florida. This development naturally begs the question: Why has Messi been included among the nominees for the 2023 award once again?

While it may not be a year that matches the extraordinary heights Messi has reached in the past, there is no denying that 2023 has been a year of notable accomplishments and continued brilliance for the legendary star.

Following his triumphant return from leading Argentina to glory in December, Messi continued to display his sparkle on the football pitch. He played an instrumental role in helping PSG secure the French Ligue 1 title, while also earning a well-deserved spot in the team of the season. He also finished the campaign at the top of the league’s assists chart, showcasing his singular playmaking abilities.

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Lionel Messi celebrates with his children after Paris Saint-Germain’s title-winning run at the Parc des Princes Stadium in Paris, France, June 3, 2023. /CFP

What makes Messi’s attainment even more spectacular is the fact that he was the only player in Europe’s top five leagues to achieve the remarkable feat of scoring 20 goals and providing 20 assists in a single season. Such a statistic is a testament to his unparalleled talent and versatility on the field.

After making the transatlantic move to join Inter Miami from PSG, Messi continued to remind the world of his phenomenal qualities. He played a pivotal role in leading Inter Miami to their first-ever title, emerging victorious in the inaugural edition of the Leagues Cup tournament. Furthermore, his contributions propelled the team to reach the final of the 2023 U.S. Open Cup. Messi’s exemplary performances did not go unnoticed, as he claimed both the top scorer and MVP honors for the 2023 Leagues Cup.

While some cynics may argue that Messi’s instant success in the U.S. can be attributed to low-level competition, it is important to consider the larger context. It’s unfair to overlook the undeniable evidence of Messi’s dominance extending far beyond his time with Miami. Following his standout performance during the summer, he continued to display his luminosity in the fall, scoring three goals in five victories for Argentina during the 2026 World Cup qualifiers.

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Lionel Messi reacts after netting winning goal during the Leagues Cup 2023 match between Cruz Azul and Inter Miami CF at DRV PNK Stadium in Florida, U.S., July 21, 2023. /CFP

Messi’s capacity to consistently perform at a stunning level, both for his club and country, cannot be underestimated. Not only has he surpassed the milestone of scoring over 100 goals for Argentina, but he has also become the all-time leading scorer in Europe.

While the 2023 season may not have reached the lofty standards Messi has set in his peak years, it would be unjust to discount his contributions and the huge impact he continues to have on the sport. His inclusion among the nominees for this year’s FIFA award is a testament to his enduring greatness and his ability to leave an indelible mark, regardless of the context or competition.

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