This summer Eurosport is counting down the world's greatest footballers, as voted by our international network of journalists. We will reveal one player per day, culminating in the election of the first Ballon d'Eurosport on July 19.
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To reduce a man as lavishly talented as Lionel Messi to mere numbers, when the artistry of his play and the brilliance of his thought so clearly mark him out as the best player on the planet, seems rather unfair, but two statistics demand attention after another remarkable campaign in 2012-13.
In December, the Barcelona and Argentina forward broke the great Gerd Mueller’s record to register an almost unthinkable 91 goals in a calendar year; in May, he completed a run of scoring in 21 consecutive league games, including a run of 19 where he scored against each and every team in La Liga.
These utterly ridiculous statistics are testament to the remarkable consistency, durability and destructiveness of the most effective forward of the modern era. Quite simply, Messi scores goals at a rate that should not even be possible, and does so effortlessly.
For club and country, Messi claimed 75 goals and 18 assists last season; the year before it was 77 goals and 27 assists. These figure alone demand that the forward, already Barcelona’s all-time record goalscorer at 26 years old, must be regarded as the greatest player in the world.
But it is his wonderful interpretation of the game – his fluidity of movement, superior dribbling and diverse range of accomplished finishes – that also distinguish him from his peers, even Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been forced to see his great rival named the world’s best player for the past four seasons.
Messi is a more complete player than Ronaldo. You can identify individual areas in which the Portuguese surpasses him – aerial ability, power, physicality – yet Messi is not only the most deadly finisher in football, but the best dribbler too. Allied to this is his brilliant passing which means he can prise open defences from deep positions. He is a striker, a wide forward and, at times, a midfield playmaker, all wrapped up in a slender 5ft 7in frame.
Football hasn’t seen a such an extraordinary, multi-faceted genius like this for a long, long time – arguably ever. And only a home pick for Germany in Bastian Schweinsteiger and Italy’s trendy choice of Franck Ribery prevented the magisterial Messi from a clean sweep of first places in our inaugural poll.
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How Eurosport voted
We asked the editorial teams of 10 countries/areas around the Eurosport network to compile their list of the world's 25 best players.
Then we did the sums, Eurovision-style. It's simple: a first-place vote is worth 25 points, second place is 24... all the way down to one point for a 25th-place vote.
5-Robin van Persie