By Ben Hayward and Pilar Suarez
It was a season of spectacular highs and difficult lows for Lionel Messi. The Goal 50 winner may describe 2012-13 as a “complicated” campaign, but now he is looking forward with optimism to scaling even greater heights for both Barcelona and Argentina over the next 12 months.
After Messi collected our award for the third time, he told Goal about his “year of blows” along with his hopes for the future as he begins life under fellow Rosario native Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino at Barcelona.
In the wake of Pep Guardiola’s departure last summer, the 26-year-old hit the ground running as he embarked on a spectacular scoring streak under Tito Vilanova. By the end of 2012 he had eclipsed the 75 goals registered in a calendar year by Brazil legend Pele in 1958 and also the 85 converted by German forward Gerd Muller in 1972. Messi struck 91 in total for club and country in 2012 and set another historic mark by scoring in 21 consecutive Liga games as Barca stormed to the title with 100 points to equal the remarkable record set by Real Madrid the previous year. He also began 2013 with his fourth straight Ballon d’Or.
But there were turbulent times too. Messi missed much of the latter part of the campaign after picking up a troublesome hamstring injury against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League, was far from fully fit as Barca bowed out in the semi-finals to Bayern Munich (not even featuring in the second match as the Catalans were humbled 7-0 on aggregate). There was also the emotional strain of the cancer relapse suffered by coach Tito Vilanova.
“It was a complicated season despite winning La Liga,” Messi told Goal after picking up his latest award at the Barca training ground last week. “The league is an important prize because it is the result of the work of an entire year, but we had many blows and things which affected us – injuries, other things which minimised our ability to react and, regrettably, Tito’s illness.”
Vilanova has now left Barcelona to concentrate on his recovery from cancer after a 100-point Liga season which will go down as o ne of the greatest in Barca history. “The best moment of the year was, undoubtedly, when we knew that we were champions mathematically,” said Messi. “The worst, without doubt, was the relapse suffered by our coach, Tito Vilanova.”
The forward turned out for Vilanova as a youngster in the Barca youth teams and has a special bond with the 44-year-old Catalan coach. Europe’s top scorer in 2012-13 was visibly moved as he sat front row for the announcement by president Sandro Rosell earlier this month that Vilanova would be stepping down and remains in close contact with his former boss.
As Messi now considers the challenges ahead which culminate with the World Cup in Brazil, winning the Goal 50 represents a timely boost. “I’m very excited about this,” he said. “As players, we work the entire year to win honours for the team, we don’t look for the individual awards, but when they come it’s an incentive and gives us strength to continue on the same path.”
That path now sees Messi link up with summer signing Neymar in what promises to be a mouth-watering partnership and fellow Rosarino Martino at Barca, with the Argentine coach chosen as the man to lead the Catalan club following the departure of Vilanova.
“I am approaching the season with great enthusiasm and great optimism. Like I always do,” he added. So, with the Goal 50 gong under his arm and, as Vilanova recently revealed, looking leaner and keener than ever before ahead of a new season, Messi is hopeful of yet another sensational year in 2013-14.
Click HERE to see the full list for the Goal 50 for 2012-13.