Abu Dhabi : Amid the tainted faces of golfing great Tiger Woods and footballer Thierry Henry, it is the boyish face of Lionel Messi wearing an impish smile that will end the year on a soothing note for sporting fans around the globe.
At 22, Messi has won virtually every piece of silverware that a club can gain — including the Fifa Club World Cup here in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. He has also won the world under-20 and Olympic titles with Argentina.
That leaves him with perhaps only a World Cup medal to capture and elevate him to the status enjoyed by two icons of the game — Pele and Maradona.
European football can take credit for polishing this gem. The star comes from the city of Rosario in Argentina and possesses the raw and sublime skills that have resulted in so many greats from South America.
Messi's greatness was evident when he began to display magic as a teenager.
His goal against Getafe a couple of years ago was similar to the one Maradona scored against England in the World Cup.
And watching him play here in Abu Dhabi it is apparent Messi is living up to that early promise. Playing in a league which perhaps is only second to the English Premiership in terms of competitiveness, Messi has been simply brilliant. Even in the absence of Ronaldinho, Messi has dished out one sizzler after another helping Barcelona to six trophies this year.
Monday's Fifa accolade — World Player of the Year — has helped Messi displace Ronaldo as the world's best though the latter has come out on top in the English Premiership. Messi, who has grown with Barca through the junior level has already been acknowledged by Maradona as his successor.
With Barcelona having extended his contract until 2016 with a release clause to buy him having been increased from $220 million (Dh807.4 million) to $368 million earlier this season, and with the Catalan giants having a great run of success, Messi's move is unthinkable in the near future.
If only he can keep his feet planted on the ground, dive less and stay simple, there is just no limit to his ascendancy.