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A World Cup Would Solidify Lionel Messi’s Legacy

For almost two decades, Lionel Messi has made the football pitch a canvas and his masterpiece is close to completion.

The 2022 World Cup will be significant for many reasons, but Messi has dropped a huge piece of news that will make the spectacle even greater.

[ MORE: Players With Most Ballon d’Or Awards ]

On Thursday, reliable journalist Sebastian Vignolo revealed through a conversation with Messi that the Argentina legend is retiring from international football after the World Cup.

The 2022 edition of the tournament in Qatar will be Messi’s fifth competition, with his first coming back in 2006.

Argentina reached the 2014 final in Brazil before falling to Germany, and it still remains the one major trophy Messi hasn’t secured.

MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP via Getty Images

After losing in several Copa America finals, Messi and Co. were able to conquer the South American trophy in 2021 after beating Brazil.

Messi is a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, the most any player has taken home those honors recognizing the top player in the sport.

His play on the pitch has spoken for itself since he was a long-haired teenager debuting for Barcelona in the mid 2000s.

Messi’s control on the ball and ability to make the impossible a reality have made his the focus of social media and talk shows for nearly 20 years.

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He’s earned the rightful nickname ‘La Pulga’ or ‘The Ant’ for his tenacity and being able to work his way through tight spaces.

Commentator Ray Hudson’s ‘magisterial’ calls have been almost isolated in the direction of Messi covering Barcelona and PSG matches.

Although this era has been full of other elite talents like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, Messi has always stood out with his quiet assassin mentality.

He rarely gives wide-scale interviews, does commercials or goes out of his way to be in the public eye.

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However, every day he steps onto the pitch fans are locked in on No. 10 because it’s always must-watch television.

When the world has eyes on the biggest tournament in football next month, Messi will become one of the few players to ever compete at a fifth World Cup.

He’ll suit up for an Argentina side that hasn’t lost in over three years and currently rides a 35-match unbeaten streak.

And if Lionel Messi can bring a World Cup title back to Argentina that might just solidify his legacy as the greatest footballer of all time.

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Is CONMEBOL Joining UEFA Nations League?

The opposition to FIFA’s biennial World Cup plans have been loud and clear, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger and some of the organization’s masterminds from pushing forward with it.

Today though, there’s news of other plans, ones that could throw a major wrench into the international football schedule.

ESPN’s Dale Johnson is reporting that the UEFA Nations League could see major reforms starting in 2024, including major additions with the arrival of all 10 CONMEBOL nations.

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South American countries, as well as other confederations, have been previously left out of the competition as UEFA continues to expand its massive reach over football.

CONMEBOL hosted Copa America this summer as Lionel Messi and Argentina won the trophy, but an alliance with UEFA would be a huge win for the South American countries.

Below, ONE37pm will dive a little further into the reported plans and detail what it means for FIFA – who’s current ideas differ drastically from what’s being proposed.

What is UEFA’s latest plan?

UEFA recently held its draw for the 2022/23 Nations League, but this new reform wouldn’t take place until 2024 with the arrival of CONMEBOL countries.

“This is the last UEFA Nations League in this format,” UEFA vice president Zbigniew Boniek said. “We had a meeting with CONMEBOL, an organization of South American countries. From 2024, teams from this continent will join the competition.

“As many as 22 teams will play in League A, in which 16 teams are currently competing. Six of them will be from the CONMEBOL zone. The remaining four teams will be added to League B.”

The 10 South American countries would be broken with Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Peru and Chile currently the top six nations and then the bottom four countries as Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia.

For context, this is how the upcoming Nations League setup looks for 2022/23.

UEFA

With Leagues A and B currently featuring 16 teams in each pathway, the addition of CONMEBOL nations would bring League A up to 22 teams and League B to 20.

All the matches for the updated competition are anticipated to be played in Europe.

How does this affect FIFA’s biennial World Cup plan?

FIFA surely won’t be thrilled will this development given their strong push towards a biennial World Cup — held every two years instead of the tradition four-year pattern.

With UEFA and CONMEBOL signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) until June 2028, the two biggest confederations in football have made their opinions clear as to what they think of FIFA’s proposal.

While some of the proposed reforms are needed, such as a clean up of the international calendar and reduced travel for players throughout the year, it’s been a common theme that most outside of FIFA circles don’t want to see an increased frequency for the World Cup.

Today’s development also comes on the heels of UEFA and CONMEBOL announcing the Finalissima, a mini final that will start this summer with Argentina and Italy meeting as the winners of Copa America and Euro 2020, respectively.

What’s the outlook for football?

While the combined presence of UEFA and CONMEBOL strengthens the two confederations that have historically dominated football, it’s not necessarily the best thing for outsiders like CONCACAF, AFC and CAF, which represent North/Central America, Asia and Africa, respectively.

The UEFA Nations League has already made it more difficult for teams outside of Europe to schedule friendlies and prepare properly for the world’s biggest tournaments, such as the World Cup, but now the addition of elite South American nations widens the gap at the top.

The U.S. Men’s National Team under Jurgen Klinsmann, for example, was regularly scheduling friendlies against Netherlands, Italy, Germany and other top teams from around the globe.

Over the past three years, the only top 25-ranked side the USMNT has faced outside of CONCACAF rivals Mexico are Switzerland and Chile.

The outrage across Europe when it came to the European Super League was felt globally, but when it comes to the subject of international football nobody blinks an eye for the teams that don’t reside within Europe despite the fact that some of the world’s best talents didn’t come from the UEFA region.

There’s surely a lot more that needs to play out in this story, but for now, the ball is in FIFA’s court as they plan their next move.

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The History of El Clasico

El Clasico has been one of the biggest spectacles not only in the European football landscape, but in all of sports.

It is a match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, two teams in the top Spanish football league known as La Liga, and two of the most successful clubs in all of Europe.

Leading up to match day between Real Madrid and Barcelona, fans are given the opportunity to reminisce the greatest matchups between the two historic Spanish clubs, like in 2014, when Gareth Bale turned into the human flash and dusted Barcelona at their Camp Nou, or in 2017, when Lionel Messi sent his flaming spear into the heart of Real Madrid at their Santiago Bernabeu.

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VALENCIA, SPAIN – APRIL 16: Gareth Bale (L) of Real Madrid celebrates beside Xabi Alonso after scoring Real’s 2nd goal during the Copa del Rey Final between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Mestalla on April 16, 2014 in Valencia, Spain. (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

Throughout the past decade, the intense rivalry of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi doubled the attraction that is already garnered for arguably the biggest soccer match on the planet. Even without two of the games greatest stars, the historic rivalry between the two teams and hatred amongst the fans should be enough to make this weekend’s El Clasico one to remember.

How did El Clasico Begin?
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Barcelona striker Gary Lineker (r) gets in a shot as Hugo Sanchez of Real Madrid looks on during the ‘El Clasico’ between Barcelona and Real Madrid at the Camp Nou on January 31, 1987 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Simon Bruty/Allsport/Getty Images)

Football analysts and minds alike point to the 1940s as the timeframe for which El Clasico became what it is today. One of the more memorable matches from that decade happened in 1943. Barcelona were up 5-3 in the 73rd minute against Real Madrid during a La Liga match at Les Cortes, Barcelona’s home stadium. In a hostile environment, Madrid would proceed to score two unanswered goals to tie the score, salvaging a draw in a 5-5 result for the record books.

Who has the most goals in El Clasico?
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Alfredo Di Stefano entertaining in Real Madrid during September of 1963 / Getty Images

Argentinean striker Alredo Di Stefano was at the forefront of Real Madrid’s dominance against Barcelona during the 1960s. Di Stefano is the all-time leading goal scorer in El Clasico with 26 goals, and was known for playing some of his best football against arch rival Barcelona.

Most Memorable El Clasico Moment
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Barcelona’s Brazilian Ronaldinho (L) celebrates his goal against Real Madrid with teammate Cameroonese Samuel Eto’o during their Spanish Liga football match in Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid, 19 November 2005. AFP PHOTO/ Pierre-Philippe MARCOU (Photo credit should read PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU/AFP via Getty Images)

Imagine Alex Rodriguez earning a standing ovation at Fenway Park, or J.J Redick receiving love from UNC fans at the Dean Dome. Both of those inconceivable scenarios equate to what Real Madrid fans at the Santiago Bernabau did for Barcelona’s Ronaldinho in 2005.

Ronaldinho was the reigning world footballer of the year. The golden boot winner (awarded to the player with the most goals in a league) was a stalwart on a Barcelona team full of such. Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi were forces to be reckon with as well during that year. Against Real Madrid in 2005 though, Ronaldinho put on a solo exhibit of greatness, and did it all with a big smile on his face. Among displaying his outstanding dribbling and playmaking to the Madrid fans during the match, he scored two spectacular goals to seal a comfortable Barcelona victory.

After his second goal, around half of the supporters in the stadium were standing up and cheering on the Barcelona superstar, just as he tormented their team.

What’s Next?
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Barcelona’s Guinea-Bissau forward Ansu Fati (R) kicks the ball during the Spanish league football match between FC Barcelona and Levante UD at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, on February 2, 2020

This will be the first time in over a decade that we’ll see these two teams play without Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo on the team.

While there won’t be any players on the pitch that have half of the quality of those mentioned above, there are reasons to be as excited as ever for this weekend’s El Clasico.

There are young stars in both squads, including 18 year-old Ansu Fati for Barcelona and 21 year-old Vincius Junior for Real Madrid, that will vie to become the next El Clasico hero. After all, there was a point in time when a 20 year-old Lionel Messi wasn’t even considered the best player on his team, but nonetheless, burst onto the scene with a hat-trick in El Clasico in 2007.

Considering the amazing moments we’ve seen between these clubs, expect to see the birth of a new hero, and maybe even a world superstar, when the two teams play this Sunday. After all, it always delivers.

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La Liga’s Rules Prevent Barcelona From Retiring Number 10

To some players a number on the back of their kit is simply that; just a number. For many others though there’s significance behind the selection.

In Spain, Barcelona recently saw one of its all-time greats leave the club after a financial struggle led Lionel Messi away from the Camp Nou.

For over 12 years, Messi donned the famous No. 10 kit for Barcelona, a number previously held by other club legends like Ronaldinho, Diego Maradona, Pep Guardiola and Hristo Stoichkov. 

On Wednesday, Barcelona handed the number over to its new No. 10, Ansu Fati. The 18-year-old attacker has shown glimpses of brilliance early in his career, but after suffering a serious knee injury last season it’s no guarantee that he’ll be the same player immediately.

When Messi departed Barcelona for a new chapter at Paris Saint-Germain a logical question arose; why not retire his number?

Arguably one of the greatest to ever play the game, Messi meant more to Barcelona than most players could possibly bring value at any other club. His accolades are endless. Meanwhile, Messi was fully ingrained in the Barca culture for so long that he felt like a true native of the city by the time his journey came to an end.

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The simple answer is that La Liga prevents its clubs from retiring jerseys by utilizing a frustrating system that makes it very difficult for a team to do so.

Squad numbers in Spain are arranged No. 1 through 25, with the first number being designated for a club’s goalkeeper. Any additional goalkeepers on the senior team can wear a number between 13 and 25.

These numbers correspond with how many players La Liga clubs are able to register for each season; 25.

When it comes to players that graduate from a club’s academy and reach the senior side they are handed a number 26 through 50 if all other spots 1 through 25 are taken by squad members.

In the current case of Barcelona, Nico Gonzalez — who splits time between Barca’s senior team and Barcelona B — wears No. 28.

So back to Messi real quick. If Barcelona really wanted to honor the Argentina legend by retiring his No. 10 the club would have to permanently remove that number from its squad list.

In doing so, La Liga wouldn’t allow the club to replace No. 10 with another number 26 or greater, leaving Barca with 24 players available for selection.

It may not seem like a big deal but it certainly would be when it comes to registering new signings.

Additionally, it would bring up the other issue of deciding when it’s feasible to retire a player’s number. There’s no question that Messi is fully deserving of the gesture, however, what happens when Gerard Pique retires? What if Pedri goes on to have a legendary career?

It’s a challenging situation, and one that La Liga has clearly drawn a line in the sand as to preventing its clubs from retiring numbers on a whim.

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Immense Pressure Builds as PSG Rounds Out Star-Studded Squad

Some are already calling the newly-dubbed MNM, or Messi, Neymar, Mbappe, as the greatest attacking trio in modern football history.

The trio have yet to take the pitch yet for Paris Saint-Germain but the expectations will be immense for a squad that has a chance to not only breeze through Ligue 1 in 2021/22 but will also be considered one of the favorites to take home the UEFA Champions League.

The Champions League, in particular, will be a huge defining moment for PSG — who are just two seasons removed from reaching the final before losing to Bayern Munich.

The Parisians have gone out and put together one of the best individual transfer windows in the history of the sport, not only acquiring Messi, but also luring Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, Giorginio Wijnaldum and Gianluigi Donnarumma.

After falling short in Ligue 1 last season to surprise winners Lille, PSG have to regain their claim to the top of French football this season, and given the squad improvements at Mauricio Pochettino’s disposal there won’t be much room for error.

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Coming into the new Champions League season, PSG boast the second-best odds to win the competition, only trailing Manchester City. Both teams are yet to hoist the UCL trophy and continue to be in a race against one another to bring it home.

What makes PSG’s situation so interesting though is the amount of pressure the club is putting itself into by bringing aboard a player of Messi’s caliber and stardom.

That’s not to say that current PSG stars like Neymar and Mbappe don’t register with the fanbase, but Messi is global. He’s one of the two biggest names in the sport and arguably one of the top in any sport.

With Mbappe’s contract situation still unresolved, it’s easy to imagine that the France international won’t re-up with the club unless there’s some kind of assurance that success will arise. Ultimately, that comes down to winning the Champions League.

The expectations for winning Ligue 1 simply aren’t enough for Mbappe as he begins to enter his next phase of stardom the way that Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo did in their early 20s.

The links to Real Madrid are strong and with Los Blancos not spending heavily this summer transfer window it’s almost certain that the club is going to splash major cash next summer in an attempt to get a player like Mbappe and put the club and La Liga back on the map.

For Messi, the reality is we don’t know if PSG will be his final destination, but given his growing infatuation with Major League Soccer or a potential homecoming in Argentina at Newell’s Old Boys, it’s conceivable that the Argentine will play longer than his new contract dictates.

That said, Messi was a different player last year at Barcelona. Still productive, but his interest in the game declined.

He walked around the pitch more than he ever had previously. He wasn’t engaged with his teammates. The weight of what was happening at the club became a lot to handle and understandably so.

In a significantly better position to succeed at PSG, is a 34-year-old Messi capable of flipping a switch and becoming that same Messi we’ve watched for over two decades?

Time will tell.

As has been the case with many well-known teams throughout football history, talent only gets a team so far.

Aurelien Meunier – PSG/PSG via Getty Images

France were the reigning World Cup champions heading into the European Championships this summer and struggled throughout the competition. Meanwhile, Donnarumma and Italy brought home the trophy despite having missed that very same World Cup three years prior.

Ultimately, the success of PSG will come down to the club meshing on all fronts, especially the defensive end.

Hakimi and Ramos won’t get the share of the media or fan attention, but their presence will be crucial in how the season plays out, along with Donnarumma in net.

Ramos played less than half of Madrid’s La Liga matches last season due to injury and his relationship with center backs Marquinhos and Presnel Kimpembe will be massive in deciding how far PSG can advance.

No matter what the turnout though, the Parisians will undoubtedly be must-watch television every week and the storylines surrounding the club will be massive regardless of their match results.

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10 Notable Soccer Free Agents

Soccer is a sport with a lot of turnover at the club level, and each summer we see significant movement during the transfer window.

While 2021 has been relatively quiet thus far for a number of reasons, most notably the financial effects of COVID-19 and various major competitions this summer, we’re beginning to see the transfer rumors come in heavy.

But what about the players that are out of contract? As players get older and sometimes less desirable because of wage demands and overall cost, teams will allow them to sit the free agency block for long.

Other times there are unique cases like Lionel Messi, who remains a free agent because of Barcelona’s financial troubles. 

The club is still unable to settle up with La Liga because of the massive wages the club is paying other players, which in turn is affecting Barcelona’s ability to bring back its most-coveted player.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most notable soccer free agents still available heading into the 2021/22 season.

10. Carlos Tevez

The Argentina legend is out at famed South American side Boca Juniors, but Tevez is still itching to play moving forward. Tevez feels like the type of player that could finish his career in Major League Soccer, and given the interest in Argentinian talent over the years it’s easy to imagine another star player coming to the U.S. 

9. Andy Carroll

The former Newcastle striker struggled during his time with the Magpies but Carroll could still be a strong option for a Championship side at only 32 years old. His track record as a goal scorer is admirable and given his leadership qualities he’d make a great signing.

8. Franck Ribery

Ribery’s track record for club and country is almost unmatched and although the Frenchman finds himself out of contract he could surely find a home if he chooses to continue playing. After enjoying himself in Italy recently, it could be possible that he lands with another Serie A club to finish his career.

7. Nicolas Nkoulou

The Cameroonian spent significant time at Torino and developed a strong reputation in Serie A, but Nkoulou will have a chance to sign elsewhere and looks set to move back to Ligue 1 next season. 

6. David Luiz

Luiz will be looking for an opportunity outside of England most likely, but given his versatility and free-flowing style, why not come to Major League Soccer? Luiz has been an avid visitor of the United States throughout his career and the Brazilian would be extremely marketable for the league as a player that can play various positions and enjoys the spotlight.

5. Jack Wilshere

The former Arsenal man has had his share of injuries throughout this career, but Wilshere is still only 29 years old and as a midfielder should have plenty more to give to a Premier League side. He spent last season at Bournemouth and it’s hard to imagine another mid-tier English side wouldn’t take a chance on the veteran.

4. Jerome Boateng

The former Bayern Munich defender is a savvy veteran that absolutely can offer teams throughout Europe the stability and experience necessary to compete for several more seasons. Boateng feels like a Premier League defender at this stage of his career, similar to how Thiago Silva joined Chelsea late in the summer in 2020 after leaving PSG.

3. Diego Costa

The Spanish goalscorer has had his share of controversy throughout his career, but there’s no question that Costa offers something significant up top. Costa struggled recently at Atletico Madrid, but for a mid-tier Spanish or English side it feels like a no brainer signing.

2. Giorgio Chiellini

The Euro 2020 winner will surely find a team before the new season starts, right? At 36, Chiellini is certainly nearing the end of his career, but after the stellar performances he put together for the Italians this summer it shouldn’t be questioned whether or not he can still compete at the highest of levels.

1. Lionel Messi

Barcelona’s financial struggles are well documented and that’s been the primary discussion this summer for the La Liga giants. Although a deal between Messi and the club appears imminent, if Barcelona isn’t able to register the Argentina superstar it could allow another team to swope in and acquire the attacker.

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Top 20 International Goalscorers in Football History

Suiting up at the international level is the ultimate goal for players aiming to solidify their legacies for their respective countries, and with Cristiano Ronaldo on the precipice of becoming the all-time leader in goals it’s fitting that we take a look at some of the other greats.

While Lionel Messi has a ways to go to work himself into the mix for the top five in this category, Messi’s international career was recently validated with Argentina’s first Copa America title during their captain’s tenure with the Albiceleste.

The beauty of football though is the great unknowns, particularly those that come from nations that fans wouldn’t normally follow.

The current all-time leader in goals is Ali Daei, whose career with Iran was revered by many because of the country’s limited success on the international stage.

Meanwhile, players like Hungary’s Sándor Kocsis boasted an incredible career of his own, and in fact, is the only player in the top 20 all-time that averaged over a goal per game during his career with the European nation.

Below, we take a closer look at the 20 best international goal scorers in the history of football.

20. Robert Lewandowski
Poland
Getty Images

69 goals

122 appearances

19. Stern John – Trinidad & Tobago

70 goals

115 appearances

18. Piyapong Pue-on – Thailand

70 goals

100 appearances

17. Miroslav Klose – Germany

71 goals

137 appearances

16. Kiatisuk Senamuang – Thailand

71 goals

134 appearances

15. Kinnah Phiri
Malawi
ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP via Getty Images

71 goals

117 appearances

14. Majed Abdullah – Saudi Arabia

72 goals

117 appearances

13. Sunil Chhetri – India

74 goals

118 appearances

12. Bashar Abdullah – Kuwait

75 goals

134 appearances

11. Kunishige Kamamoto – Japan

75 goals

76 appearances

10. Sándor Kocsis
Hungary
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

75 goals

68 appearances

9. Lionel Messi – Argentina

76 goals

151 appearances

8. Ali Mabkhout – United Arab Emirates

76 goals

92 appearances

7. Pele – Brazil

77 goals

92 appearances

6. Hussein Saeed – Iraq

78 goals

137 appearances

5. Godfrey Chitalu – Zambia

79 goals

111 appearances

4. Ferenc Puskás
Hungary
Barratts/PA Images via Getty Image

84 goals

85 appearances

3. Mokhtar Dahari – Malaysia

89 goals

142 appearances

2. Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal

109 goals

179 appearances

1. Ali Daei – Iran

109 goals

149 appearances

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2021 Ballon d’Or Power Rankings

Two major summer competitions are over, and although there’s still plenty of time for players to make their cases for this year’s Ballon d’Or we have a much better picture of the serious contenders for the award.

An award that has been dominated by two players for the past 12 years, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will certainly figure into the equation once again in 2021.

However, other names have entered the fold and 2021 could be an opportunity for an outsider to bring home the prestigious trophy for the first time since 2018 when Luka Modric did so.

Messi leads the all-time Ballon d’Or tally with six awards to his name, while Ronaldo is close behind with five titles.

Throughout the history of the award, other legends of the sport like Michel Platini, Johan Cruyff and Frank Beckenbauer have all taken home Ballon d’Or honors at least twice.

Here are ONE37pm’s top 10 Ballon d’Or candidates post-Euro 2020 and Copa America.

10. Kylian Mbappe – Paris Saint-Germain/France
John Berry/Getty Images

Mbappe will take some flak for his performance at the Euros, but there’s no questioning his resume and deservingness of being considered one of the top players in the world. Mbappe finished atop Ligue 1’s goal scoring list last season and guided PSG to a second straight Champions League semifinal.

9. Erling Haaland – Borussia Dortmund/Norway
Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

While many are focused on Haaland’s potential summer move (?) the striker had himself a very impressive season for Dortmund and if he can follow that up in 2021/22 he’ll be in the mix for the Ballon d’Or for many years to come. 

8. N’Golo Kante – Chelsea/France
Alex Caparros – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

Kante may very well be the most consistent player in the world, and his role in Chelsea’s Champions League-winning campaign was immense. The Frenchman’s rise from Leicester City historic season in 2015/16 to present day only displays the growth of Kante and now he seriously deserves a chance at making the Ballon d’Or podium.

7. Kevin De Bruyne – Manchester City/Belgium
Alex Caparros – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

The Belgium international has consistently been one of the best, if not the top, players in the Premier League for years now and after another dominating season for Man City it’s clear that De Bruyne deserves to be in the mix for Ballon d’Or. Despite battling a serious injury at the Euros, Belgium nearly made a run at the title, but champions Italy ended their chances.

6. Cristiano Ronaldo – Juventus/Portugal
Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

It feels like Ronaldo is constantly in the Ballon d’Or race, and deservingly so. The Serie A Golden Boot winner from 2020/21 helped ensure Juventus would qualify for the Champions League next season. Portugal’s struggles at the Euros were surprising to many, but Ronaldo finished atop the Golden Boot list and it’s another achievement to add to the superstar’s collection.

5. Romelu Lukaku – Inter Milan/Belgium
Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

After a tremendous season at Inter Milan that saw Lukaku and Co. break Juventus’ stranglehold on Serie A, Lukaku carried his impressive form over to Belgium at the Euros. Despite falling short against Belgium in the quarterfinals, Lukaku displayed just how important he is to the success of the Red Devils.

4. Harry Kane – Tottenham/England
Andrea Staccioli/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Tottenham striker won yet another Golden Shoe crown in the Premier League last season despite Spurs’ struggles and Kane carried that form over to the Euros. Although England fell short in the final, Kane battled through a difficult start to the tournament and ended up one goal shy of the Golden Boot.

3. Robert Lewandowski – Bayern Munich/Poland
Stefan Matzke – sampics/Corbis via Getty Images

Bayern Munich won yet another Bundesliga title last season and Lewandowski’s accomplishments for his club played a huge role in the German giants hoisting another trophy. After breaking Gerd Muller’s Bundesliga record for most goals in a season, it’s difficult to not have Lewandowski in this conversation.

2. Jorginho – Chelsea/Italy
Michael Regan – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

This name would’ve probably been a shock to many being mentioned in the Ballon d’Or race, but after what Jorginho has been able to accomplish this season he deserves serious attention. A UEFA Champions League title with Chelsea followed by a Euro 2020 title with Italy should be enough to open the eyes of many about the midfielder’s accomplishments.

1. Lionel Messi – Barcelona/Argentina
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images

Messi has been in the Ballon d’Or mix almost every season since becoming a superstar at Barcelona, and despite the team’s struggles in 2020/21 the Argentine still impressed for both club and country. Winning an elusive Copa America title is massive for Messi’s legacy, but more importantly puts the 34-year-old goal scorer firmly in the driver’s seat for the Ballon d’Or.

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Barcelona’s Financial Crisis Could Force Lionel Messi to Leave

Lionel Messi is on the brink of competing in a Copa America final, but the headlines surrounding the Argentina superstar aren’t all about his national team’s current success.

Barcelona have been in a position to re-sign Messi over the summer after a turbulent year that nearly saw the attacker leave the club ahead of the 2020/21 La Liga season.

With moves for Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and others reportedly in the mix to join Barcelona, things were beginning to look up for the club in its efforts to keep Messi at the Camp Nou next season.

However, there’s been delays in announcing players due to financial restrictions placed on Barcelona recently due to the club’s massive wage bill being paid out.

Much like Financial Fair Play rules created by UEFA to create a semblance of competitive balance throughout Europe, La Liga has a similar set of financial guidelines to maintain Spain’s spending on salaries for each club.

Reports suggest that Barca needs to cut roughly $200 million from its salary cap in order to register Aguero and other new players, but more importantly, they cannot sign Messi until they do so.

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After a tremendous season for the Blaugrana and the integration of many young players into the squad like Pedri, Sergino Dest and Ilaix Moriba, Messi’s attitude towards staying at Barcelona began to change for the better. 

They also played nearly a full season without star winger Ansu Fati, who has been dubbed one of the next great players in Spanish football.

The answer for Barcelona’s current spending issues should be simple. Sell unwanted players, especially those that have been on the trade block for some time. 

However, with the public knowledge that the club is in such dire straits at the moment, opposing clubs aren’t lining up to sign the Blaugrana’s dead weight. Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann are among the biggest salaries carried by the club, but the idea of cutting them loose won’t be easy after Barca went through a similar situation last year with several of its high-profile players.

Barca was forced to allow Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Arturo Vidal and others for essentially nothing in return, and although the club had to recognize it was time to proceed forward with various youth talents in its squad the financial ramifications are visible now more than ever.

Barcelona’s main rivals, Real Madrid, are preparing its future, which could be with a young superstar like Erling Haaland or Kylian Mbappe, and that’s a scary proposition for the Blaugrana. 

Meanwhile, with teams like Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain having shown the capabilities of spending at will, if Barcelona can’t satisfy Messi’s contract soon there’s a very real chance he will actually depart the Camp Nou this summer. 

PSG reportedly has sent in a two-year offer to the Argentina star after bringing in notable defenders Sergio Ramos and Achraf Hakimi this summer. With Mbappe’s contract expiring at the club next summer, Messi could be a potential target for the Parisians.

The French side has quickly become one of the global powers in recognition since bringing in players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar and most recently Mbappe.

For that reason, Paris could be an attractive destination for Messi, who could reunite with Neymar, as well as fellow Argentina internationals Angel di Maria and Leandro Paredes.

If Messi has in fact played his final game at Barcelona there’s no question he’s the greatest player to ever suit up for the Blaugrana and his next club will benefit greatly from his presence.

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Sports Strength

Will Winning Copa America Change Lionel Messi’s Legacy?

The Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo debate can be tiresome to many with the constant back and forth discussions about which superstar is the greatest to ever play football, but the conversation is at least intriguing.

We’ve witnessed other greats grace the pitch throughout history like Pele and Diego Maradona, but what Messi and Ronaldo continue to do is astounding because they’ve been doing it simultaneously for over a decade-and-a-half.

Both players have accolades that would take a very long time to list out at the club level, but one of the deciding factors for many when it comes down to which player is better relies on international success.

Up until 2016 when Ronaldo and Portugal hoisted the European Championship trophy, the Juventus star hadn’t broken through on the international stage. During his debut year with Portugal in 2004, Ronaldo and Co. reached the Euros final, but fell to Greece in the title match.

Messi’s international escapades have been quite similar, however, Argentina is yet to win a major trophy under Messi’s watch despite reaching several finals throughout his storied career.

Trips to the Copa America finals in 2007, 2015 and 2016 resulted in losses for Argentina, while the South American side suffered a heartbreaking outcome in the 2014 World Cup final when Messi and Co. fell to Germany in extra time.

Fans, pundits and even players have very different definitions of how success should be measured, but collectively it’s common that people will say it’s a combination of club and international honors.

Messi and Argentina find themselves in yet another Copa America final in 2021, with a significant match against Brazil looming on Saturday.

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Throughout this tournament, Messi has etched himself into exclusive company as the only player in the competition’s history to account for every goal at a single Copa America tournament. He scored four goals and assisted on five more, putting Argentina in prime position to win their first title in the competition since 1993.

Messi’s individual brilliance at this tournament should be more than enough to silence the doubters, but for many that won’t change until he captures a trophy for Argentina.

Maradona was able to do it for his country, albeit with one of the most controversial moments in football history aiding him and his Argentina team in 1986. Ronaldo was able to do it at the Euros with Portugal. Pele won multiple World Cups with a Brazil team widely regarded as one of the best of all time.

The simple fact is that expectations for the greatest players will always be higher, but a win on Saturday would certainly make the case that Messi has finally done enough internationally to silence those that cannot fathom him being on the same playing field as Ronaldo.