Sulking and now suspended: Lionel Messi at real risk of handing Erling Haaland the 2023 Ballon d'Or
On Wednesday, as one elite footballer careened off into the Manchester night in celebration, another sat at home, somewhere on the European continent. The first had just scored his 35th Premier League goal of the season, smashing a record that had stood almost 30 years, with an emphatic dink. The second was, and still is, barred from playing football, suspended by his own club for two weeks.
Both of them, Erling Haaland and Lionel Messi, are among the top contenders for this year's Ballon d'Or. But a few months ago, this wasn't supposed to be a competition.
Messi rolled through the first half of the season at PSG in fine form, before enjoying his finest career achievement yet, completing football with a long-coveted World Cup win. Haaland was, in fairness, scoring in buckets and terrorising the Premier League, but with Manchester City having slipped behind in the title race and with Norway having not qualified for Qatar 2022, the battle for the Golden Ball did not feel like a fair fight.
But now, things have changed. Messi's post-World Cup season has turned into a footballing wasteland, with only brief moments on the pitch punctuating what has otherwise been five months of transfer speculation and boos from PSG ultras. Haaland, meanwhile, has become the sharpened edge of a near-perfect team, the final-boss finisher of a potential treble-winning outfit.
That Ballon d'Or battle, once an exercise in silence, has become a full blown debate. And right now, Haaland might just win it.