Messi: Licensed to thrill
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Aside from taking receipt of France Football’s Ballon d’Or last year, Barcelona and Argentina ace Lionel Messi also collected the FIFA World Player 2009 award. And the 23-year-old will be returning to Zurich for the fourth time in his short but brilliant career in January, as he seeks to maintain his status as the world’s pre-eminent footballer by winning the inaugural FIFA Ballon d’Or.

The diminutive Messi has come an awful long way since making his first-team debut for Barça in 2004. In amassing a glittering array of team honours and individual accolades since then, the Argentinian genius has often been compared with his illustrious compatriot Diego Maradona, and has proved a worthy bearer of the famous Albiceleste No10 jersey.

The most elusive of dribblers, Messi has a devastatingly quick turn of pace and a sixth sense when it comes to scoring goals. The winner of 13 titles already with his club, all that is missing on his extensive roll of honour is a FIFA World Cup™ winners medal.

As Barcelona team-mate Xavi Hernandez recently acknowledged in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Messi’s dazzling gifts set him apart from his peers: “The only reason the rest of us have any chance of winning [the FIFA Ballon d'Or] this year is because the World Cup didn’t turn out too well for Argentina, because if it had, then it would be no contest. In my view, Leo is now even better than Maradona was.”

Highlights in 2010
Messi’s form in 2010 has been every bit as brilliant as it was last year. In breaking through the 150-goal barrier for Barcelona, he has also scored his 100th Liga goal for the club and is already fourth on the club’s list of leading scorers in the league. That domestic tally includes five hat-tricks, with Messi also hitting four goals in the second leg of Barça’s UEFA Champions League quarter-final win over Arsenal in April.

In June he pulled on the captain’s armband in the South Africa 2010 group game against Greece, becoming Argentina’s youngest ever skipper in a FIFA World Cup match in the process. Though he failed to score in the showpiece competition, he did find the back of the net in a 4-1 friendly defeat of Spain in September, following up two months later with a superb solo winner in another friendly against arch-rivals Brazil.

The stat
34 - The number of goals Messi scored in becoming La Liga’s top scorer last season.

2010 in words
“If I don’t win, then I sincerely hope that it goes to one of my Barça colleagues. All the odds are in favour of Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta and to be honest they’re great people and great players who deserve it more than anybody.”
On his candidates for the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or.

“To become a footballing great you have to win the World Cup.”
On his future goals.

“It was a very special game. When I found out I was captain I was very relaxed about the whole thing, and it was a wonderful experience.”
On skippering La Albiceleste in the 2-0 defeat of Greece at South Africa 2010.