Lionel Messi looks set to win a fourth world player of the year award in 2012 and has time and again made a case for him to be considered among the best footballers ever. This article, written at the beginning of this year, is a critical appreciation of the Argentine's exploits.
Five league titles, three Champions League titles, two FIFA World Club Cups, FIFA U-20 World Cup and Olympic Gold Medal winner. Three-time Ballon D’Or winner, La Liga player of the year and Champions League top scorer. Plus, there’s the enviable record of 211 goals in 287 appearances for Barcelona. Do we still need to ask whether Lionel Messi is the best player of our generation?
Obviously, until Argentina don’t win the World Cup with Messi, he will struggle to convince those who say that his phenomenal record is down to the fact that he plays for a team like Barcelona. But thankfully, all those doubters are in minority. The 24-year-old diminutive forward has a lot of years ahead of him and it’s scary to imagine the kind of record he would possess once he hangs up his boots.
Lionel Messi’s story has the potential of being the undisputed success story of football. Maradona reckons that Messi will settle the eternal debate of who is the best footballer ever. That may sound a bit far-fetched now but it’s not totally out of the question. If he stays fit, which he should given his fitness record, he will get at least two chances to lead Argentina to World Cup glory (in 2014 and 2018). It shouldn’t be surprising if he manages to do it. Argentina possesses a host of attacking riches currently and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil should also suit them as they’ll play in familiar conditions.
However, even if he doesn’t win it, he’ll easily earn a place in the pantheon of football greats. The subliminal movement, the composure and the finesse with which he has bamboozled defences for half a decade now are nothing short of orgasmic. Presently, it’s difficult to imagine the world of football without Messi. It’s not something that can be said about a lot of players.
What sets Messi apart from other footballing greats like Maradona, Cruyff and Best is his humility. He humbly dedicates all his success to his family, coaches and fellow teammates. Even on the field he is an epitome of the model footballer. Rarely do you see an over-the-top reaction from Messi after a foul. Like a kid, he gets up, dusts himself off and continues to play as if nothing happened. It’s almost as if it was a slight pause in a poetry recital.
Probably, this is where Messi’s greatness lies. You can kick him, foul him and push him around. He won’t retaliate or argue with you. But the next thing you know, he’ll be terrorizing you with the energy and enthusiasm of a 16-year-old boy. He keeps doing it for the entire 90 minutes until the opposition’s defence wilts and gives him that extra width of space that he needs to make that telling contribution.
Thankfully, the growth hormone deficiency that he suffered from in his childhood didn’t affect his career. Otherwise, we would have been deprived of experiencing the magical moments that he readily produces on the football pitch. A lot of people said that Maradona’s greatness was due to the fact that he could make the impossible possible. The same could be said of Messi.
It is for moments like these, when the lines between reality and fiction are blurred, that we watch football every week. After a week full of disappointment and frustration (rarely satisfaction) in our lives, it is players like Messi who for the next 90 minutes take us into a different galaxy and give a meaning to our pointless existence. When Messi goes on an awe-inspiring run, like he did against Getafe in 2007, making seasoned defenders look like schoolboys and finishes coolly past the goalkeeper, you know that this is the kind of happiness that we all yearn for. In a flash of second, that happiness flashes before our eyes and vanishes.
Not every football player possesses that quality. Messi does. Does he know that? Probably not. It’s probably for the best if he doesn’t. Such a realization will only bring added pressure on this ridiculously talented Argentinian. Whenever he comes out to play on the pitch, it’s poetry in motion. A generation that was blessed enough to watch Roger Federer play tennis, is doubly lucky to watch Messi play football. It’s time we all realised that.