With two remarkable free kick goals, Messi contributed significantly to Barcelona’s victory over Sevilla and claiming the UEFA Super Cup. With characteristic modesty, he said after the game, “I’ve just been lucky enough to score those goals.” He didn’t say those goals required talent and hard work.
It is widely known that there are two ways of stopping Argentine Lionel Messi, arguably the best soccer player in the world: Either put a German tank in front of him or hit him repeatedly on his legs. The first option is not allowed on the soccer pitch, while the second has been tried by players from all teams facing off against Barcelona.
I once jokingly asked a friend: “If you are inside a spaceship looking at a soccer field, how do you know which one is Messi among all the players?” To my surprise he quickly responded, “He’s the one most surrounded by the opposing players.”
Unlike most players, Messi never responds to these personal fouls against him. A player hits him, he falls and, like the Energizer bunny, he gets up again, without a single complaint. In the recent match between his team and Rome for the Gamper Trophy Match, however, things took an ugly turn.
In the 34th minute, Messi was clearly upset by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, a Rome player. A heated exchange between the two began after Yanga-Mbiwa apparently leaned against Messi with his forehead. Uncharacteristically, Messi reacted by grabbing Yanga-Mbiwa’s throat and head-butting the Frenchman.
The physical exchange could have easily resulted in both players receiving a red card and being ejected from the game. Fortunately, they only received yellow cards, allowing them to remain on the pitch. Yanga-Mbiwa’s harsh physical attack against Messi, however, didn’t stop the Argentine player from scoring a beautiful goal. Barcelona defeated Rome three goals to nil.
Despite some lackluster performances, such as during the recent America’s Cup, Messi can still surprise and amaze. Writing in The New York Times, the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano said: “No one plays with as much joy as Messi does. … He plays like a child enjoying the pasture, playing for the pleasure of playing, not for the duty of winning.”
Galeano also wrote: “I like Messi because he doesn’t think that he is Messi.” Asked to comment on this, Messi responded, “I am just trying to keep doing my job and enjoying what happens to me, what we do and what we achieve every day. There isn’t time to sit and think about what you have been doing because everything happens so fast: As soon as one thing finishes another one begins. …”
The only player to challenge him as best in the world is the Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo. However, despite general agreement that he is an excellent player, the odds continue to favor Messi.
Recently, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the famous Swedish player, was asked during an interview to respond with the first word that came to his mind when asked a question. When he was asked “Ronaldo?” he answered, “Good.” But when he was asked “Messi?” Ibrahimovic responded, “Fantastic.”
Ibrahimovic’s opinion is echoed by Pele, the legendary Brazilian player. “At the moment, people always try to compare Ronaldo with Messi, but it is a different style. They are two great players, but in the past 10 years, the best in the world was Messi,” said Pele. I rest my case.
Cesar Chelala, an Argentine writer, is a soccer fan.