The least surprising piece of news over the weekend was that Lionel Messi was among the 30 players short-listed for the Ballon D'Or, the European Footballer of the Year award. It won't be much less of a shock when Messi wins the award outright on December 1, capping a spectacular year for the Barcelona playmaker.
However, while Messi has the makings of one of the finest club footballers we have ever seen, his overall legacy also depends on success on the international stage.
For Barca, the diminutive Argentinean is a genius and has conjured spectacular victories for his side on countless occasions. The UEFA Champions League final last May was a prime example when he outshone Cristiano Ronaldo and tore apart Manchester United to secure the trophy.
Yet Messi's performances for his homeland have been mysteriously poor, albeit by his own extraordinary standards. After Argentina survived a serious scare in qualifying to reach the World Cup finals last week, Messi admitted he has rarely reached his full potential in national team colors.
Great players' place in history is largely determined by their performances in major tournaments, so South Africa next summer could be a pivotal point of Messi's career.
He will continue to sparkle in La Liga and the Champions League and there can be little argument that he is the most accomplished all-round player on the planet. He is still improving and his place among the all-time greats remains to be seen, but that status will be more heavily influenced by what takes place next summer in South Africa than what happens the next seven months with his club in Europe.
Messi will need to step up for Argentina in the same way he does each week for his Catalan paymasters, or it will be his legacy that takes the hit.
Weekend Best XI
1. Get him an Advil
Chelsea training sessions probably won't be ending early this week – not after two goals were conceded from set pieces in a 2-1 loss at Aston Villa. Three-quarters of the goals Chelsea has allowed this season have come from dead-ball situations, an alarming trend that could spell trouble for Carlo Ancelotti's job security.
2. Get him a beer
Bruce Arena. From the ashes of two dreadful seasons in Major League Soccer, the Los Angeles Galaxy head coach has somehow pieced together a team that looks likely to win the Western Conference. Arena has shown that discipline, organization and a refusal to being pushed around by superstar players can be a winning formula.
3. Get some earplugs for …
The unnamed England national team star who was on the receiving end of Fabio Capello's wrath last week. Capello was infuriated that his strict ban on the use of mobile phones during team lunches had been ignored and hurled a tray against a wall.
4. Keep an eye on …
The furor surrounding Sunderland's "beach ball" goal against Liverpool. And it is going to keep on rumbling. Referee Mike Jones will be called upon to explain his action to the game officials committee, while Liverpool supporters could have extra cause to rue the lost point if it costs the Reds dearly at the end of the English Premier League campaign. The possibility of the game being replayed has been ruled out, but refereeing decisions are once again at the forefront of the EPL spotlight.
5. Catch a flight to …
Madrid. Cristiano Ronaldo is out of action, but Real Madrid will be looking for its third straight win to start its Champions League campaign on Wednesday. An out-of-sorts AC Milan is the visitor in a matchup of two giant clubs with vastly differing current fortunes.
6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week
23 – The number of people still convinced Diego Maradona is the right man to lead Argentina to World Cup glory following his side's fluky qualification and his graceless comments which came after it. Despite all the outside criticism, Maradona's squad still seems to believe in him.
7. Fond farewell
Roberto Donadoni. Another job, another failure for the former Italy coach, whose managerial career now looks to be in tatters. Donadoni was a magnificent player but sadly he is not a character cut out for top-level coaching.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Thierry Henry. Once again, strong rumors linking Henry with MLS have surfaced, and it would be no shock to see him turn up in New York or Seattle next year.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Jeff Cunningham. The FC Dallas striker might be 33, but he is attracting the attention of goal-shy English Championship club Reading, who are interested in acquiring him during the January transfer window.
10. Get excited about …
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Take a look at Danielle Lineker, the stunning new wife of former England striker Gary Lineker.
- Lionel Messi
- Cristiano Ronaldo