FIFA’S (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) designation of Messi as the best soccer player in the world for 2019 only confirms what everybody knows. He beat Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo, two remarkable players, but Messi continues to surprise with his achievements.
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. Since the first option is not allowed on a soccer field, the second one has been tried by players from all teams playing against Barcelona. Unlike most players, Messi never responds to these personal fouls against him. When a player hits him, he falls and, like the Energizer bunny, he gets up again, without a single complaint.
Despite some occasional lackluster performances, Messi can still amaze those watching him. The late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano said, “No one plays with as much joy as Messi does…He plays like a child enjoying the game, playing for the pleasure of playing, not for the duty of winning.”
Galeano added, “I like Messi because he doesn’t think that he is Messi.” When asked about Galeano’s comment 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…”
Messi has transformed a relative disadvantage for a soccer player into an advantage. His short legs allow him bursts of acceleration while keeping control of the ball. Messi is the only player who runs faster with the ball than he does without it,” said Pep Guardiola, his former coach and one of the best coaches in the world. What is Messi’s secret? “The ball stays glued to his foot; I have seen great players in my career, but I’ve never seen anyone with Messi’s ball control,” said Maradona.
Although on occasions new players seem to be the ones to replace him as the best player in the world, they never keep their brilliant performances. They are just like transitory shooting stars. “Only Messi has kept his incredible performance for many years,” told me recently José Delbo, a world-famous illustrator and soccer expert.
For a player of his worldwide fame, Messi is unusually modest. He once said during an interview something that reflects his unique personality, “I’m more worried about being a good person than being the best player in the world. When all this is over, what are you left with?” This is quite unlike the only player of his quality today, Cristiano Ronaldo, an egotist with enormous talent.
Despite general agreement that Ronaldo is an excellent player, the odds continue to favor Messi. 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.” When asked “Messi?” he responded, “Fantastic.” But perhaps the best definition was given to me by David Konzevik, a former soccer player and now a noted Argentine economist living in Mexico. According to him, comparing Messi with Ronaldo is like comparing the boxing champion Joe Louis with the Russian ballet dancer Nureyev.
Pelé, the legendary Brazilian player said, “People always try to compare Ronaldo with Messi, but both have a different style. They are two great players, but in the past 10 years, the best in the world was Messi.” The Mexican writer Juan Villoro confirmed Pelé’s opinion about Messi, “We don’t know how far Lionel Messi will go. We only know that there are no defenses or locks that can stop him. When a child wants a bicycle he is capable of many things. When a man plays like a boy who wants a bicycle, he is the best footballer in the world,” wrote Villoro.
Many times Messi has been called an extraterrestrial. One of the biggest compliments he recently received was the headline in a Spanish newspaper. After a game in which he didn’t participate because of an injury, and his Barcelona team lost after having a lackluster performance, the headline in a Spanish newspaper read, “Without Messi, Barcelona is only a terrestrial team.”
César Chelala, an Argentine writer, is a soccer fan. In 2014, he won First Prize in Sports Journalism from ADEPA, the National Organization of Newspaper Editors in Argentina.