It was a sad day for Lionel Messi. Sure, he has taken the Argentina team from humiliated quarterfinalists to the World Cup final in his 3 year stint as captain. But the end was bitter, with Germany winning the World Cup, 1-0 in extra time.
While the shortlist included several more players (including, amazingly to me, Angel di Maria), the Golden Ball was really about four players: Messi, James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben, and Thomas Muller.
All four would have been worthy winners. To anybody who says they were "bad", you have my permission to tell them they don't know the first thing about football.
In my opinion, it really came down to two players: Messi or James. Muller was in a team that was better than any other teams, but he wasn't, individually, better than the others. Robben was close, but in the end, his case was perhaps similar to Messi's just a bit less impressive.
Simply, Argentina lacked forward options. Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain failed to impress, both possibly carrying injuries. Ezequiel Lavezzi ran a lot but had little in the way of finishing. Rodrigo Palacio was very quiet. Angel Di Maria, a midfielder, did score a goal - from a great Messi assist. He was really inconsistent in his decision making and missed the final 2 games, as well as the better part of another.
In summary, Messi had very little in the way of support. Six Germans scored more than one goal. Only one Argentine, Messi, scored more than one.
Two Dutch players besides Robben scored two, with Robin van Persie equaling Robben's mark of three. One Colombian besides James scored more than one, despite having played two less games.
James could also rely on the services of Juan Guillermo Cuadrado, who finished the tournament with the most assists of anyone. Muller had help from Toni Kroos, the second-most assists in the competition... tied with the Netherlands' Daley Blind.
Three of Messi's goals had either no assist, or something which you could barely call an assist. They were outside the box, long range, solo missions. His last was a rebound, which if you take a very charitable view, was Di Maria's lone assist as his shot hit the post.
When one player is doing all the work offensively, it doesn't take a Louis Van Gaal level genius to figure out what to do. Double up on him, triple mark him, kick him, it doesn't matter.
Argentina dropped any notion of him being a center-forward. He was primarily a midfielder. Worse, Argentina struggled to get out of the back through passing. Messi often dropped behind the halfway line to collect the ball and dribble or pass to connect the defense to the midfield.
Their other option was to smash the ball into the opposition half, hoping Higuain (not really the tallest of center-forwards) could come down with it. Neither of these scenarios really suited Messi to score.
Argentina's defense did great work, but the mere threat of Messi pinned teams back. They did not want to attack knowing he'd be on the loose in counterattacking situations.
Messi led the tournament in chances created and completed the most dribbles. Why was no one there to put those balls into the net?
The Albiceleste badly needed another foil to Messi. Strangely, for a team touted for its firepower, there was quite little.
Still, getting into the World Cup final is not an easy achievement. How did Argentina survive the group stage? How did they get a beneficial draw? How did they get past the first knockout game? It was almost Messi in his entirety.
In the last three games, Argentina started to find its game. Messi was the centerpiece to be sure, but the rest of the team started to click, defensively, at least.
Without Messi, there was no Argentina. There was no World Cup final.
It's a sad day for Messi, but he should be proud. Best player of the World Cup? I think so.