Messi’s sorcery induces a form of narcosis
As he brushes aside muscular defenders like so many withered autumnal leaves, and waltzes his way towards the goal, you forget your sense of self, lost in something seemingly transcendental. And, if you are among other believers, then it becomes a moment of shared experience that goes beyond the boundaries of sport.
This is a tricky emotional state to get into for people with a strictly materialistic — naturalistic — world view. For, what you are lost in is an incandescently beautiful, consciousness-altering passage of time — one that you may have believed was unattainable without recourse to a supernatural belief system.
Of all the things that Lionel Messi can do, there is nothing quite as outrageously and beguilingly insidious as this. For, those are moments when the man owns you, and millions like you; his sorcery actually induces a form of narcosis. Soon, you are an addict, for life.
“Don’t try to write about him, don’t try to describe him. Watch him,” said the former Barcelona coach ‘Pep’ Guardiola.
When you make a living writing on sport, this piece of advice is difficult to follow. The result is, you end up trying to do the impossible — trying to convey to your readers what the Messi Moments are like, although you know words have their limitations.
If football is the world’s most beautiful game, then Messi showcases its unique charm better than anybody else ever has. At his best, he renders obsolete the distinction between sport and the high arts.
But how does he do it? Perhaps that is not something people like me can blithely provide an answer to. The best of physicists, studying video footage of the 25-year-old Argentine in a laboratory, are likely to get closer to a plausible explanation.
Then again, maybe we should just leave him alone. Deconstruction might do more damage than we might realise. For, unexplained mysteries have their own charm in life.
The Higgs Boson may have lost its special place in the hearts of scientists after the Large Hadron Collider proved its validity. It is no longer the God Particle. But Messi is still very much the divine alchemist on the field.
Football is not just about what you can do with the ball; it is equally about what you can do without it. And Messi’s balletic grace and kinesthetic awareness are as much in evidence when he is in possession as when he is not.
This is why attributing Messi’s genius to his dribbling skills alone is like saying that R.K. Narayan’s greatness is all about a wonderfully imagined little town called Malgudi. However legendary that name might have become in the world of literature, it is still meretricious reductionism.
The man from the land of Alfredo di Stefano has won an unprecedented four straight FIFA Ballon d’Or awards, and his goal-scoring tally for Barcelona stands at 308.
To get an idea about how astounding that record is, consider this: after nine seasons, the great Dutchman Johan Cruyff had scored 248 goals, Brazil’s Ronaldo 229, the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo 209, Maradona 198 and the inimitable George Best 173.
Last year, Messi surpassed the record for the most number of goals in a calendar year — set 40 years ago by the German Gerd Muller (85) — and ended up with 91 goals.
But the essence of Messi’s magic goes beyond mere numbers. And to be obsessed with records at the expense of aesthetic appreciation of the little man’s artistry will be a form of sporting philistinism.
Messi’s critics point out that he has not done as well for his country as he has for Barcelona. But he is likely to figure in at least two — if not three — more World Cups, and Brazil-2014 offers him, and Argentina, a great chance.
“Lionel [Messi] not only has the genius of Diego [Maradona] but is also as prolific a goal-scorer as we have ever seen,” said Gary Lineker.
Maradona single-handedly — some might say that in the literal sense, too — won the 1986 World Cup for Argentina, but the lovable rascal enjoyed a chunky slice of luck (well earned, I must say, with the Hand of God).
Mesmerising pair of legs
Messi, on the other hand, is good enough to do it with his mesmerising pair of legs alone. But whether he gets his hands on the World Cup or not, there is no single sportsman on the planet right now who can enslave fans quite as effortlessly as the Argentine superstar.
“Messi is on another planet,” said Arjen Robben, the Dutch forward.
We know — and we are glad — that he isn’t. But every time you watch him, that — the fact that Messi is on the same planet as all of us and is subject to the same laws of physics and randomness of life — seems scarcely believable.