No Athlete In Sports Owns Anything Like Lionel Messi Has Owned La Liga

There are two things that stand out about dominance in sports.

One is that it is rare to witness and two is that it comes in different shapes and forms. Fully assessing dominance and putting it in its proper context underscores how remarkable the achievements are. In this particular case, the level of superiority and ownership that FC Barcelona and superstar forward Lionel Messi have displayed in the Spanish League for over a decade is one you have to tip your cap to.

Last month, Barcelona won their 26th La Liga title in club history, its fourth in a five-year span, and its eighth title in 11 years. At the epicenter of this run has been Messi. He’s collected ten La Liga titles in his 15 years with the club, eight of those titles coming with Messi as the team’s top player.

Messi holding his 10th La Liga trophy.  Photo Credit- Fox Sports Asia

Although Barcelona’s urgent quest for the Champions League title fell disappointingly short this month versus Liverpool in the semifinals, one shouldn’t overlook the ultra-consistent domestic success the Blaugrana and Messi have compiled over the last decade. Messi’s 2019 season (named Man of the Match a mind-blowing 22 times this campaign) has been downright majestic and he has made the extraordinary look routine on many occasions.

I think it’s fair to make the statement that no athlete – individual or team sport – has owned anything like Lionel Messi has owned La Liga in the last decade. That’s right, it’s true.

Messi owns and has owned La Liga more than LeBron James once owned the entire Eastern Conference, more than Usain Bolt owned the 200-meter dash, more than Stephen Curry owns the three-point shot, more than Michael Phelps owned the 200-meter butterfly, more than Serena Williams owns a first serve and more than Roger Federer has owned grass courts.

The only athlete that comes close to matching the Argentine’s level of mastery and control over an event, skill or league is Rafael Nadal and the stranglehold he has obtained on the European clay courts.

The Spaniard has ruled the red dirt like no other before or after him, having set records by winning 11 French Open titles (86-2 record), 57 career clay court tournaments, 24 Masters 1000 clay titles and owning the longest match winning streak in men’s tennis history on a single surface at 81 on clay courts from 2005-2007.

The significance of Messi’s 10 La Liga titles is that he is one of six footballers in history to win 10 league titles or more in domestic competition in the five top-flight leagues (Spain, England, Italy, Germany and France). The other five are Ryan Giggs’ 13 Premier League titles with Manchester United, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville’s 12 Premier League titles with Manchester United, and Pablo Gento’s 12 and Pirri’s 10 La Liga titles with Real Madrid.

Unlike clubs like Bayern Munich in Bundesliga who have won six consecutive league titles (currently fighting for a seventh) and Juventus in Serie A who won their eighth straight Scudetto this season (a record for the top five European Leagues), I deem Messi and Barcelona’s stretch in the last 11 years to hold more weight because of the fierce competition they’ve had to ward off en route to those domestic titles.

The biggest challengers they’ve slayed along the way have been their rivals in Real Madrid, a loaded, star-heavy club that won four European Cups and only two league titles led by Messi’s one true antagonist, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Atletico Madrid, the sternest and most uncompromising defence in all of Europe that won one La Liga crown, three Europa Leagues and made two Champions League finals.

Messi’s run of domestic success in Spain doesn’t just trace back to the league titles but also to the cup competitions, where he has seized six Copa del Rey trophies (going for his seventh on May 25) and eight Spanish Super Cups. While the team accomplishments are certainly headline-worthy, it’s his ingenious play on the pitch that shines the brightest.

Many, including myself, that have watched Messi play for years have run out of superlatives to describe and compliment him. He’s in the stratosphere with hallowed names like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali and Wayne Gretzky, who have altered the way we will forever watch sports. Messi might not be the tallest soccer player but he dwarfs his opponents, most regularly over clubs in Spain, who see his awe-inspiring performances up close.

Ask Sevilla, Real Betis, Getafe or Levante if they’re sick of being embarrassed and hoodwinked by Barca’s maestro season after season. Those clubs are still probably scared all these years later.

The level of artistry and football magic he’s produced for all these years has not only characterized the way Spanish football is stylistically played (maintaining possession, movement, patience on the ball, technical quality, short and quick passes) and brought more visibility to the league worldwide but he’s shaped the fabric and identity of the league forever.

Messi, paired with Ronaldo in this occurrence, has rewritten the record books in terms of goal-scoring in not only Spain but across Europe. The norm for an elite forward used to be maybe 20-25 goals per season, but these two have produced seasons where they have accrued 50-60 plus goals every single year.

Even Man United star central midfielder Paul Pogba says no one should expect players to produce like Messi and Ronaldo. They’re both the exception.

In Messi’s case, he has been the top goal-scorer in La Liga (Pichichi Trophy) a record-tying six times but its also his razor-sharp passes and vision (has led the league in assists five times) where he connects on through balls like no other player in the world does. On top of that, the 31-year-old has the most goals (417) and assists (166) in league history, with his goal total in Spain representing the most goals scored amongst the top goal scorers of the top five European leagues all-time.

While still in unbelievable form, Messi will probably add to all those amounts over the next five years to the point where nobody will be able to sniff those numbers.

If that doesn’t tell the whole tale, then the individual accolades will.

Since the creation of awards in the Spanish League in the 2008-09 season, Messi has won an astonishing eight La Liga Player of the Year awards in 11 seasons. You can visit this site to bet on whether he’ll make it 9 in 12 seasons. He has been voted as the Best Forward nine times and will inevitably add to those totals by season’s end.

Mark my words, you will never see football played on the Spanish level like this ever again from an individual. If there was ever a player in European soccer history that has been the symbol and paragon of a league, then it’s Messi in La Liga.

You plainly can’t tell the 90-year story of La Liga without Lionel Messi.

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