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Lionel Messi: The champion who bounced back

On the night when Lionel Messi created yet more history, it's time to appreciate the gift that is the now record five-time Ballon d'Or winner, says DW's Alex Chaffer.

It almost never happened, did it? Looking back we have to appreciate how close we came to never seeing the phenomenon, the delightful joy to watch that is Lionel Messi.

Barcelona gave Messi the fighting chance he needed to succeed. In the Argentine player's 29th year, it is more than enough reason to appreciate what we have already seen on the evening of his winning of a fifth Ballon d'Or title.

Last year Cristiano Ronaldo, like Messi this year, was a worthy winner of FIFA's Ballon d'Or. But with his fifth title, back with him after two years, coming six years after his first, Messi has proven his unquestionable ability to stay at the highest level for the longest time.

“I never imagined this in my wildest dreams,” Messi said after collecting his award. “A lot has changed since 2009; quite a few years have passed. I've learned a lot and grown so much.”

But even in the midst of returning to the top of world football once again, Messi showed his down-to-earth, appreciative nature which, as well as his ability on the pitch, has won the hearts of so many fans around the world.

“I want to thank football in general for everything it has brought me, both the bad and the good,” Messi said. “Because football has made me learn and grow.”

Without his teammates, of course, Messi could not have done it, as he said himself on stage in Zurich. But delving back to look at the player who seemed so soulless at the end of the 2014 World Cup, a player who looked physically diminished after coming up short in his biggest moment, you appreciate just how magnificent Messi was during 2015, when many would have struggled to fight on.

Lionel Messi versus Bayern Munich

Messi destroyed Bayern all on his own

A year to remember

A stuttering start was met between November and May with form that even surprised Messi himself. His performances from the start of the year to the Champions League final, a time in which he scored 34 goals in as many games, could only be viewed - from an innocent bystander's point-of-view - from the floor, jaw wide open.

There were many devastating performances, but the standout by far was his destruction of a side some argued to be the best in the world at the time, Bayern Munich. Leaving Jerome Boateng motionless before beating the world's best goalkeeper without even a stutter, Messi was back with a bang, despite never truly going away.

Without playing his best in the Champions League final in Berlin, Messi never faltered when it mattered most elsewhere. His goal in the Spanish Cup final against Athletic Bilbao – which was nominated for FIFA's Puskas award – was another moment in which superlatives were not enough to compliment the action that we were able to witness.

In his career so far: seven Spanish league titles over 10 years, three Spanish cups, four Champions League titles, three European Super Cups, six Spanish Super Cups, three Club World Cups, and that's just at club level.

Lionel Messi

It has been a joy to watch from day one

Destined to be the best

Messi was already a household name when at just 19, nine years ago, when he single-handedly tore apart a Real Madrid side which included Raul, Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Iker Casillas, in his first El Clasico.

Just two years later and his always over-analyzed rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo was born. The question marks have forever since been raised over whether Messi would be up to the challenge in another league, like Ronaldo proved he was capable of. But you can't hide from the fact that he has been consistently outstanding for his one team.

With both players now approaching the end of their careers, as Ronaldo turns 31 next month, it's time to enjoy it while it lasts. The hole that these two players will leave in the game may not be filled for decades, if ever.

It's easy to get lost in the records, stats and numbers that have enveloped the careers of Ronaldo and Messi. But we all remember where we were when we first watched them, when we first told our friends who we thought was the best and we'll remember where we were when they retire.

But this award is an opportunity not just to talk about the records, it's about the feeling of disbelief in Messi's abilities on the field - just as you think he has reached the limit of what is possible.

“Football, Barcelona and my family, these things are my life,” Messi told German football magazine Kicker in 2010. The three elements retain their importance six years on.

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