Season in Review, Pt. 1: Most Improved Player

And now, we come upon the time of the season where we recap, and look at the players who made us go, and debate like crazy what a dumbass I am.

So to start, Lionel Messi is my Most Improved Player of this season. And it was a really, really hard decision.

You have to look at the club, and the year that it had. When you do, two names leap out at you: Pedro! and Messi. It could have almost come down to a coin toss, because Pedro! scored so many key, key goals for the club this season, and emerged fully as yet another proud, successful canterano. He went from not being on the Del Bosque radar to going to South Africa with the Spain squad, such was his explosion as an offensive force.

But then I had to look at what Pedro! wasn’t doing when he wasn’t scoring goals, and that made the Messi decision a whole lot easier.

If you look purely at the numbers, Messi wasn’t that far off from last season. He had 38 goals in all competitions last year, and 45 this season, if my math is right. But what distinguished his goals this season compared to last was the way in which they were scored, and the import. He essentially hoisted our offense on his shoulders this season, popping in goals just for fun sometimes. He equaled the amazing scoring record of The Real Ronaldo, and nabbed the Golden Boot.

But he also became a leader, making Barca into his club. He didn’t wear the captain’s armband, but when he strode onto the pitch, there was no question who had the steering wheel. And as a leader, he improved his game. Last year, he was banging in goals. This season he added passing to his bag of tricks, laying on neat assists, give-and-gos and deft flicks and lobs, moving himself one more step toward being unplayable.

Yes, he had moments of unconscionable selfishness. And we will probably even find that once the overall KRS is tallied, he probably (no, I don’t know) won’t even be our most highly-rated player overall. But he was certainly our most improved. People wondered after last season, whether he could get any better, and he did. Because he had to as we worked in a new acquisition in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his partner in crime last season, Thierry Henry, was laid low by injury and age.

And there is no truer sign of a leader than his willingness to do whatever it took, even when he shouldn’t have been on the pitch. So for overall ability and those intangibles that make a great player even better, the Most Improved was, to me, ultimately a no-brainer.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

109 Comments

  1. Kari
    May 19, 2010

    Yay! You actually did it Kxevin.

    Messi is also my most improved player. It’s just crazy when you look back at all he’s done. Just staggering.

    I’ll also toss Maxwell up there as a close fourth after Pedro!. Keita actually has my vote as second most improved. He went from “Huh? What?” to ‘Keiteeeeeee” in one season. We really saw Seydou’s qualities this year.

  2. vicsoc8
    May 19, 2010

    Hmmm, tough choice between Pedro, Maxwell, Keita, Messi, and Pique. Ultimately I’d probably choose Pedro for the sole reason that I expected Messi to get better this year, but I had no idea Pedro would have more than a hand-full of starts.

    Just a suggestion, but it would be cool to have a top ten events of the season (events meaning specific moments such as a Clasico or full season trends such as the emergence of Pedro).

  3. Jnice
    May 19, 2010

    He actually had 47 goals. Crazy.

    Spot on about his leadership through his play on the pitch.

    I can tell his game is continuously improving every season. Two years ago, his shot outside of the box wasn’t nearly as accurate or powerful as it is now. He has improved his headers, and his free kicks are getting better.

    What a player.

    Props to Pedro, though. His finishing keeps improving, his movement is getting better, and the pressure he puts on opponents off the ball is crazy. Out of all of our strikers, he works the hardest off the ball, and I think that part of his game coupled with his finishing ability is why Del Bosque will include him in the final WC squad.

    And I agree with Kari, honorable mention goes out to Keita or SeyDEEZY as I call him.

  4. jnelson
    May 19, 2010

    47 goals, right?

    • jnelson
      May 19, 2010

      Oops

  5. Kari
    May 19, 2010

    Enjoy:

    *http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJdxs5683p0

  6. Lev
    May 19, 2010

    Hey Kxev cool article as always. Maybe it is cause i’m tired but what is KRS?
    However for me me Pedro is without a single shred of a doubt the most improved player.
    To go from two starts (both losses against Shaktar Donetsk and Osasuna) and a handful of substitutions last season to taking the starting place off of one of the decade’s best players, Thierry Henry, is just incredible. I mean, think about that. Really.
    I mean, 2008-2009 Pedro score 10 league goals…for Barcelona B!!!
    Messi comes a close second which is amazing since he was already world player of the year due to his 08/09 performance. His freekicks and shooting have improved, he has more power to his shot like Jnice says and he is becoming more versatile to the point that he would be our best player no matter which forward position he would start.

    I personally do not believe Keita has improved that much it is just that he has seen a lot more playing time so we have noticed and appreciated him a lot more.

    • jnelson
      May 19, 2010

      It’s the Kevin Rating Synthesis, the collection and analysis of the player ratings done by Kevin at the end of every match.

    • ooga aga
      May 20, 2010

      you dont need to be a vegas bookie to know that! 😉

  7. vicsoc8
    May 19, 2010

    On another note, who wants to place bets on the highest and lowest rated players in the final KRS? My guesses:
    Highest: Abidal
    Lowest: Jeffren, with Bojan second

  8. Lev
    May 19, 2010

    @vicsoc8 cool idea for top 10 events / specific moments. May I nominate Messi giving the penalty kick he himself earned in brilliant fashion against Zaragoza to Ibra instead of opting for personal glory by way of a fourth goal in one match?

    • vicsoc8
      May 19, 2010

      Even cooler is that in retrospect you can say he gave away sole possession of scoring records both in the league and over a full season at the club by giving away that penalty.

    • Bundy
      May 20, 2010

      don’t forget in the last game against valladolid, he assisted Pedro’s goal instead of going out all himself and taking the goal, instead he put the team first and set it up for Pedro.

      I don’t think not breaking the record annoys him, he’d rather put the team winning first then personal achievements. That in its self is a unique achievement.

  9. Lev
    May 19, 2010

    ah the Kevin Rating Synthesis. Thnx Jnelson!

  10. Lev
    May 19, 2010

    @vicsoc8 funny I was just thinking the exact same thing while just watching his 47 goal video

  11. Lev
    May 19, 2010

    (just 1 just too many. bad form i know lol)

  12. Stephen
    May 19, 2010

    Excellent Kev. a true great pick, Messi went from being great, to taking the team on his shoulders and pulling through.
    I’d have to place Milito in the most improved, what a great come back and we truly needed him this season, and he came through.

  13. ElShowDeJason
    May 19, 2010

    does anyone else enjoy how Supporters of a certain Prem Team condemn “Tapping-Up”, but have absolutely no qualms about Cradle Robbing and Talent Poaching? #yayhypocricy

    Hello, My name is Arsenal Fan, I would much appreciate if you stop trying to seduce the child that we kidnapped from you with promises of candy, dollars, and fame. thank you.
    I’m also going to accuse you of being classless while I uninvitedly (s)troll into this blog with generalizations and stereotypes, and ask you, a blogger or commenter to account for the actions of suits in Spain.
    Lastly, I would really love for you to take me seriously, and treat you with respect while I hurl insults at you, coupled with brilliant statements such as “Alex song is twice as good as Yaya”, and such.

    end rant.

    • Jose
      May 19, 2010

      jaja, good rant. I think with this fresh new post, we can go back to normal here. And, you know, wallow in being only the 4th richest football club in the world 🙁

  14. barca96
    May 19, 2010

    is there going to be a pt2 for pedro, abidal?
    busi improved a lot since april imo.

  15. cliveee
    May 20, 2010

    I think Pedro is much closer than you said if Messi is the most improved one. Pedro did not get so much time on the pitch last season, but when he does this season, he shone brighter than any young players anywhere.

    Pedro did not really have last year to compare because he had just so little time on the pitch. so the comparison between Pedro and Messi is basically like this: Pedro from none to record-breaking performance vs Messi’s already established greatness in 08/09 (with goals and assists) to even more perfected performance on the pitch and higher number of goals. I actually lean more toward Pedro as the most improved player in this sense.

    Oh, this is only Pt.1. There must be many more parts to come. can’t wait to see Maxwell as the Transfer of the Season.

  16. May 20, 2010

    I’m not sure if I understand your parameters – is it most improved from last year or most improved from the beginning of the season to the end?

    Because if we’re comparing from last year, Maxwell doesn’t figure at all. And if we’re comparing from Aug 09 to May 10, then Keita might well have regressed given his amazing, match winning play in those early months – we might have forgotten it now but those 7 goals were so, so crucial back then,for a stuttering team.

  17. poipoi
    May 20, 2010

    to me the MVP of the season is messi but the most improved player is pedro! … keep the improvement mr ledesma!

    • Stephen
      May 20, 2010

      MVP would be Xavi.

  18. poipoi
    May 20, 2010

    well… being frank the most improved FCB player of the season is…. hlebster!!! lol just think of what he did last season and compare 😀

  19. Eklavya
    May 20, 2010

    Kxevin, Messi has 47 goals in all competition this season not 45!

  20. Bojan
    May 20, 2010

    Viva Messi! messi and bojan too why do you hate that boy so much!

    • Kari
      May 20, 2010

      It’s not that he has anything against CT, it’s just that Kxevin expects a lot more of him because he has the ability to do better than he has been. That’s why it may seem like he’s hating on Bojan.

  21. missingpage
    May 20, 2010

    The following comment is totally out of place…but this is the most likely place for me to get an answer..so does anyone know WHEN WILL PUYI LIFT THE LEAGUE TROPHY??
    …sorry for the screaming but I just can’t believe we wont lift the trophy…Has this happened before ever?

    • Lou
      May 20, 2010

      Yeah, I’ve been wondering that too. Does anyone know why the team wasn’t presented with the trophy on Sunday? Given that they were in first place and playing a team in the relegation zone, you’d think the Liga officials would have had it nearby.

      Bad traffic?

      I guess since the players are all on holiday now they aren’t going to have a trophy presentation ceremony.

    • Bundy
      May 20, 2010

      they will present the cup probably during the supa copa or the joan gamper match.

  22. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    Most improved player, Messi by a mile. After him, I’d say Keita, Abidal, Busquets, Pique.

    Most consistent, Xavi hands down. Then Valdes. VV could go into the most improved category as well I guess.

    This is Pedro’s first season so nothing to compare there, but definitely surprise of the season. Just like his goals, he came out of nowhere, and now he’s going to the WC! Maxwell is a surprise too. I never doubted his abilities at lb, but that he could also play at rb and help in midfield is good for our depth.

  23. justin
    May 20, 2010

    Do others agree that I pique should also be up there for most improved? Compared to last year he became a rock in the center of defense and put in a few goals too.

  24. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    According to Sandro Rosell Barcelona’s debt is 489m euros. Is that right? I guess he wants to increase it by getting Torres? Sounds like let’s tell all how bad Laporta’s presidency been has started. Getting a bad feeling about Ibra. I think Rosell will sell him. Should take my hector pills, but this is election year where everything can be made possible.

    • vicsoc8
      May 20, 2010

      Seems like a fundamental disconnect to me. He speaks about financial issues with the club, yet shows no restraint with his spending during the election of his planned spending if he wins.

  25. DontPanic
    May 20, 2010

    Some bad news guys. Apparently JDS and his agent Pini Zahavi are stalling on signing a new contract. It seems they’ll make a decision after the World Cup. This is what I feared the most with these Cesc rumors.
    On the other side Thiago is closer to signing a new contract.

    • Kxevin
      May 20, 2010

      Don’t panic, DontPanic (man, that was fun to type!). They are examining the contract, which means that they are stalling in the hopes that Dos Santos has a brilliant World Cup and they can demand more money from us. We’ll pay, and he will settle, because there is no other club in the world that can offer him what we can. Yes, he can go somewhere else and get more playing time. If he wants to do that, then let him. His brother can serve as an example for him.

      But there is much to be said for learning football at a club that reveres midfielders, and wins championships.

    • ElShowDeJason
      May 20, 2010

      I agree. He isn’t going anywhere. The agent just wants more money.
      But he isn’t very smart. Although Jonathan’s talent is undeniable, and his potential limitless, he is not going to get significant playing time during the world cup.
      Mexico runs a 5 midfielder system with no Center Midfielder. The tempo setting is orchestrated by the support striker (or Enganche) as we call it.
      It’s a 2 defensive mid, 2 wide attacking mid, and 1 support striker system. This situation isn’t particularly exciting for Jonathan, as he is an out-and-out Center Midfielder.
      the 2 defensive mids are Gerardo Torrado and Israel Castro.
      the 2 wide attacking mids are Andres Guardado and Gio dos Santos
      and Blanco has been taking care or the support striker role.
      obviously Blanco’s age would dictate that he can’t play every match, in which case Gio takes his place, and a proper winger (Alberto Medina or Pablo Barrera) would go on the right. The same two wingers have claim over deputizing on either wing. And former La Masia attendent (for 1 year) Effrain Juarez is both the right back, and the back up to both DMs.
      If you don’t follow Mexico’s National Team, all of this is meaningless, but my point is that allthough I see much success in Jonny’s future, he will be limited to cameo appearances AT MOST in theis year’s world cup.

  26. Kxevin
    May 20, 2010

    I told you all that my math skills sucked. 45, 47, whatevs. He’s still Most Improved. 😀

    What hurt Pedro was indeed his lack of playing time last season, but also his overall game hasn’t really improved all that much from those brief flashes of last season. His knack for scoring key goals is incredible, to be sure. But it’s hard to argue for him as “most improved.”

    Abidal improved, but he was a monster last season, as well.
    Pique? See Abidal.
    Xavi was amazing, but was he really any more brilliant this season?

    Every player who was considered, came up short when you looked at the aggregate brilliance of Messi’s season. What makes me happiest about the Villa signing is the knowledge that he won’t have to carry the club on his square little shoulders again next season. If in fact we roll into the season with a front line of Messi/Ibrahimovic/Villa, with a healthy XaviIniesta, I just don’t see any club in the world, parked bus or not, that will able to play with us.

    • fcbfan
      May 20, 2010

      Kxevin, imo Xavi was better in the sense that for most of the season he had no Iniesta to partner to take off marking pressure etc and he still found ways to do his thing. Does that count?

    • May 20, 2010

      Not for me. Xavi was still Xavi. He’s always Xavi, with or without Iniesta. I watched lots of season recap footage. This will bum people out, though it shouldn’t: Xavi was better last year. Fractionally, but he was. Now yes, we’re parsing excellence, but it’s true.

  27. Kxevin
    May 20, 2010

    And I think that the Fabregas business is about to go away, once and for all. Arsenal have raised the price to 80m, with their chairman saying that they have “no interest” in selling. This is good. They can keep him against his (apparently) stated will, and wonder, every time he has a bad match, what the real reason is.

    I just want it all to go away. I’d much rather be hearing about left and right back signings, and midfield depth signings, than overpriced second stringers.

    When does Guardiola’s vacation end? Because this is all going to continue until he returns. Sport is saying that we have put a price on Ibrahimovic, The Yaya’s agent is still talking crap. It’s all madness.

    • Kari
      May 20, 2010

      “arsenal have raised the price to 80m”. Where’d you get that from, Kxevin (genuinely asking). All I see are reports that we want to pay 50m and the like.

      I hope it’s true though. I really think we’re going for someone else and are using this commotion to put it under the radar.

  28. lev
    May 20, 2010

    btw i think we are forgetting about someone…ABIDAL!

  29. Helge
    May 20, 2010

    Valdés and Pedro go to South Africa!

    Cazorla and Marcos Senna are omitted from the squad, and the biggest surprise (from my point of view) is the inclusion of Javi Martinez.

  30. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    Valdes is in the 23 squad!

  31. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    Senna is out Javi Martinez is in. surprise. Pedro and Navas in. Good for the wings.

  32. May 20, 2010

    As for me i will give it to messi; he is our MERLIN…

  33. Bundy
    May 20, 2010

    Im surprised Senna didnt make the squad, hmm thats risky

    • poipoi
      May 20, 2010

      I don’t if he’s fit or not but senna can’t miss this WC

    • ooga aga
      May 20, 2010

      no senna? wtf? not that spain cant win without him, but how can you not take that man along? when he came on against us in villareal the game changed. an amazing player.

  34. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    Javi Martinez inclussion is good for Busi. this way he will think twice about getting out his theatrics etc. I am sure Valdes won’t play a min, but glad for hi. Deserved.

    This is not the 08 euro team.

  35. Euler
    May 20, 2010

    What was so impressive about Messi’s growth was it’s context. Thierry Henry functionally fell apart as an offensive threat. Iniesta was hurt for most of the season and was mostly replaced by Keita, an effective player but not one whose strength is imagination. In effect the left flank disappeared from what it had been in 08/09 both in terms of goal scoring and play making.

    Messi stepped up and filled these voids. Pedro was obviously an enormous new source of scoring to help make up for Henry’s loss. But much of what Pedro did played off of Messi and the focus he drew and disruption he caused.

    Messi increased both his scoring and his play both on and off the ball to add the creativity missing from Iniesta’s injury. Just remarkable that one individual could expand his game to erase so much of what was functionally lost.

  36. Kari
    May 20, 2010

    -Valdes is going to the WC! Eat that Sport!

    -Can’t wait for the WC!

    -I’m going to stick my head out and agree with Kxevin that HeWhoShouldNotBeNamedLestWeAttractTrollers won’t sign for us this summer. There’s too much focus on him and I think we’re actually going for someone else but are just doing this to annoy Rosell (by pissing off Arsenal, it’ll be harder for Rosell to sign him).

    -Laporta has come out and said “Ibra no está en venta” or “Ibra is not for sale”. Full quote below:

    “Es un jugador muy valorado. El fichaje de Villa no afecta al futuro de Ibra”.

    “He’s a highly rated player. The signing of Vllla doesn’t affect Ibra’s future.”

    I’m looking forward to a Villa-Ibra-Messi front line. I kinda wish next season started next week…Oh well. I have the WC to ogle–I mean, analyze Villa. Can’t wait!

    • lovelymofo
      May 20, 2010

      I’m so glad Sport was wrong. Super excited for VV, he deserves to be on that team.

      And I’m looking forward to the Villa-Ibra-Messi front line! Not least of all because Villa gives the best bitch-face ever! Funtimes!

    • jnelson
      May 20, 2010

      Partner that with Ibra’s mad mobster glare and Messi’s thousand yard glares and we have the most awesome trio of pissed off stikers in the world!

  37. JC
    May 20, 2010

    No Senna in the team…hmmmm. Don’t think that’s a good move. He was the best player for Spain after Xavi at Euro 08.

  38. Eklavya
    May 20, 2010

    VV and Pedro go to SA!!!!!!!

    Senna doesn’t! Whoa! Javi Martinez does though! No Guiza and Negredo. He’s left out the replacement strikers for more prolific wingers! No Cazorla too!

  39. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    Gosh we are being linked to everyone who isn’t happy at his club and wants trophies. I blame Rosell. I think he’s using Pep’s name in vain. Come back soon Pep.

  40. tyler
    May 20, 2010

    Wow we make up over a third of the National Seleccion! Albeit Villa has yet to step onto the field in blaugrana, but still! My only complaint is no Guiza!!! haha I know he is horrible, but he is from my wife’s hometown. I guess I’ll be seeing him over the summer.

  41. BA
    May 20, 2010

    how in the world did Senna get left out? has del Bosque not seen footage from Euro 2008? who is going to fill that space? not Alonso, who can’t tackle. not Busquets, who has no grit. against a big strong midfield like Brazil’s, they’re going to need someone to be the iron man and i don’t see who that is now. that’s very worrisome for the Spain supporter.

    unless young Marcos is quite injured, i can’t understand the omission.

    • inNYC
      May 20, 2010

      Agreed. No Senna = bad medicine.

  42. BA
    May 20, 2010

    oh, also….

    Maradone ran over a journalist in his car after giving out the squad information.

    …. no comment.

    • lovelymofo
      May 20, 2010

      Haha. This WC is gonna be comedy gold. Hope Messi finds a way to do well despite the moron “coaching” the team.

  43. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    Rosell: “We have a stratospheric level of debt. £420million over what needs to be paid for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dmytro Chygrynskiy.
    At same time Laporta and Txiki are saying this 2 def will stay. hes targeting 2 players Pep specifically ask for.

  44. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    Sorry! I Rosell is freaking me out lol. hes not going to let the coach do their job I fear.

  45. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    Senna omission is not good. He may be old now but he has experience and plays well with Xaviesta. If Valdes can be called up when he isnt really needed, why not Senna.

  46. Jnice
    May 20, 2010

    Let’s not forget that physically, Senna isn’t the same as he was 2 years ago. The past two seasons, he has battled with injuries and has missed a lot of games. That’s definitely the reason behind his exclusion.

    I actually think Busquets will play a lot during the World Cup. I think Del Bosque, like Pep, likes what he brings to the side.

  47. Reagan
    May 20, 2010

    There is no way Jonny Dos Santos will leave post the world cup. He’s seen first hand what happened to his brother Gigi Dos Santos and how his stock plummeted once he left Barca and he’s learning from the absolute best in the world in his position. His agent may be an ass though

  48. Ethan
    May 20, 2010

    Valdes Valdes Valdes Valdes Valdes VAldes Valdes VALDES VALDES VALDES VALDES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU EARNED THAT SHIT MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • jnelson
      May 20, 2010

      VALDES!!!!!!!!!

  49. fcbfan
    May 20, 2010

    oh ok Senna and Cazorla are still not in shape to play.

    What a year for P!

  50. Blow-Grenade
    May 20, 2010

    A big bow to the El Messiah.

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