Age and wisdom go hand in hand, right? That seems to be what Arsenal and Manchester United thought when they each brought back players in their thirties to help turn their seasons around. And amidst all of the arthritis medication and and sponge baths, the young Lionel Messi managed to the best player in the world…again.
As if Lionel Messi did not have enough hardware to put in his trophy room, he received his third consecutive FIFA World Player of the Year award on Monday after another astounding season in 2011. Messi beat out Cristiano Ronaldo and his Barcelona teammate, Xavi Hernandez for the achievement. And after three years of winning this award, the twenty-four year old seems to finally be nearing his prime. Messi scored fifty-nine goals for his club, Barcelona, and his native nation, Argentina. Just as he dominated on the field all year, the voting more than matched his performance. Messi received 47.88% of the vote, and the next closest was Real Madrid’s Ronaldo with only 21.6%. Messi has seen a lot of success with Barcelona, winning five trophies in 2011 alone. But, one benchmark that eludes Messi in his quest to be the best soccer player ever is a major international tournament championship with Argentina. His teammates and him are almost always heavy favorites in the tournaments they qualify for, but they can’t find a way to get the trophy. If Messi wants to win a World Cup or other tournament of that sort, he may want to consider becoming a citizen of Spain, the country Barcelona is in and where most of his club teammates reside.
With English clubs Arsenal and Manchester United struggling as of late, management looked to their history to try and turn things around for their squads. They did not try to mirror old tactics and coaching styles that had worked in the past, instead they brought back players from their past that had contributed to so much of their success. Arsenal reeled in their old striker, Thierry Henry, who was loaned out by the New York Red Bulls this week. The thirty-four year old made his homecoming after a four year absence from the club in their FA Cup match against Leeds United. Henry made 254 appearances with Arsenal from 1999 to 2007, but it was his 255th appearance and his 175th goal that the fans at Emirates Stadium will not soon forget. The Frenchman was subbed in to a tie game with twenty-two minutes remaining and scored the eventual game-winning goal only ten minutes later. It was harder tell whether the fans were louder when he came into the game or when he scored the goal–both cheers were deafening. This boost to the club’s scoring power and overall morale may be just what they needed to make a run at the top four spots in the league.
Manchester United did Arsenal one better. They brought one of their most beloved midfielders back from retirement. Paul Scholes, who has played for United in 466 matches since 1994 came back to play against one of the club’s biggest rivals–Manchester City. Scholes took a page out of Brett Favre’s book by coming out of retirement just seven months after leaving the game he loved. The decision surprised the fans and even the players who did not find out until they were in the locker room. The thirty-seven year old came on as sub and proved that even he was human. Shortly after coming in to the game he gave the ball away to City, which led to their second goal of the game. Lucky for Scholes, and Manchester United, they were still up 3-2 and had a one man advantage. Scholes and his team were able to hold off Manchester City to claim the victory in the FA Cup action. Just as Arsenal hopes that Henry can change their season’s fortune, United hopes that Scholes’ soccer knowledge and leadership on and off the field can give them the push that they need to overcome Manchester City for the top spot in the league.
Questions still remain, however. Can Messi make it four in a row? It will be difficult and has never been done before. Will Henry be the Thierry Henry of old? Being back in an old place tends to make one feel young so it will be interesting to see if he gets his younger legs underneath him once more. Will Paul Scholes continue his Brett Favre-like trend? It is quite uncommon for players to come out of retirement in soccer, but I would have said the same thing about football players.
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