Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This Guy You Might Have Heard Of, He's Pretty Decent

I suppose you might have heard about this diminutive forward/winger Lionel Messi.  You might also have heard he's not a half-bad player.

Well, as if there was some debate about who is the best player in the world, the Leo Messi Show yesterday against Arsenal erases any doubt:

Which of the four was the best?  Can you even choose?  The chipped finish to complete the hat trick was fantastic, while the run leading to the fourth was equally good.  No point in even choosing, just marvel.

The ironic thing is that the 4-1 scoreline doesn't reflect the fact that as a team, Barca were not as dominating as when they played Arsenal off the pitch during the first 60 minutes of last weeks match at the Emirates. Xavi was still commanding and impeccable, challenging those who believe, like Wayne Rooney, that Andrés Iniesta is Barca's best midfielder and best player.

What mattered on this day was that Messi not only single-handedly played Arsenal off the pitch and out of the Champions League, but played himself off the pitch where the mere mortals of football reside and ever closer to that realm of greatness that only a select few reside, the Peles, Maradonas, and Zidanes.  Messi still needs to lead Argentina to a World Cup title before I place him alongside those greats, and at 22 he has another decade at least of great football left in him (knocking on wood...).  I've been similarly awe-struck by performances from Cristiano Ronaldo in the recent past, and it's on the grandest stage that their legends must really be made.

But, as Ray Hudson would say, Messi's magisterial goals are already becoming the stuff of legends.  His speed and quick feet, quick thinking and surprising strength on the ball, combined with deadly shooting accuracy, make it almost impossible to stop him when he wants to score.

Arsene Wenger is a lover of the beautiful game, and he'd rather lose trying to emulate Barcelona's flowing, silky passing attack, than win it all by playing catenaccio.  So no matter how upset he may be at staring a fifth consecutive trophy-less season in the face, the Proffesor in Wenger who is devoted to the aesthetics of football could not help but be effervescent inside with awe and veneration at the display of extraordinary footballing grace and power before him.

There is something mythical, almost supernatural, in watching Messi at the Camp Nou, where 98,000 people, visiting fans included, are so joyous at watching Messi's craft, wanting more without really knowing how it can be done, only for the young Argentine to find new ways to amaze.  The reverence showed by the fans upon the latest act in this wonder-show just further the sense that Messi has reached heights beyond any other footballer of his generation.

With each passing moment the world's itch to see Messi replicate his club performances for his country, to truly duplicate Maradona's World Cup winning heroics, grows deeper and deeper.  Can Maradona himself find a way to bring that out of Messi in South Africa?  I can certainly dream.

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