Cesar Chelala
A physician and writer

Messi’s secret

After defeating Croatia 3-0 Argentina became a finalist for the 2022 Soccer World Cup. Great part of the merit for the exceptional performance of the Argentine team rests on the abilities of Leo Messi. Choosing him as the best player of the game against Croatia only confirms what everybody knows: he is one of the greatest players in the history of the game.

What explains Messi’s unique abilities? David Konzevik, a former Argentine soccer player and now a famous economist living in Mexico City told me recently, “I have never before been so moved seeing a player as I am with Messi. I have watched him doing magic with the ball for years. There is nobody like him.”

Many claim that Messi’s remarkable ability as a player is the result of Pep Guardiola’s teachings when he played in Barcelona. However, since he was a child in Argentina, Messi was already a brilliant player. Ernesto Vecchio, a coach from his youth, said, “As a player, he is very similar now to how he was as a youngster. He decides in milliseconds what he is going to do with the ball at his feet.”

“I think Messi is a unique case in the history of humanity, because he is someone capable of having a ball inside his foot. It has always been said that Maradona had the ball tied to his foot, but Messi has it inside it, something that is scientifically inexplicable. You see that 7, 11, 22 rivals chase him to take out the ball and there is no way to take it out of him. How is that possible? Because they look for it outside the foot, and the ball is inside. Now, how can a ball fit inside a foot? It is an unintelligible phenomenon, but it is the truth, he carries the ball inside his foot, not outside,” wrote the noted Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

His exceptional qualities as a player have made him the object of medical studies that attempt to find clues to his unique talent. How Messi’s brain works has been studied by a Dutch physician, Pieter Medendorp of Radboud University in Nijmegen. Dr. Medendorp hopes to learn “how people make split-second decisions and know how to prioritize.” It is Messi’s ability to confront opponents trying to block him and then almost effortlessly weave through them that particularly interests Dr. Medendorp.

The best explanation for Messi’s abilities can be found in an article written by the Argentine journalist Hernán Casciari, published in his blog and ironically titled “Messi is a dog.” Casciari -who doesn’t hide his admiration for Messi- tells how, after watching several of Messi’s goals on YouTube he realized that Messi plays as if in a trance, as if he were hypnotized.

Messi’s only wish is to see the ball in the opposing team’s net. “We must look well into his eyes to understand this: he looks cross-eyed at the ball, as if reading an out-of-focus subtitle; he focuses on it and does not lose sight of it even if they knife him,” wrote Casciari.

“Where had I seen that look before? In whom? I knew that gesture of supreme introspection. I pressed the Pause key in the video. I zoomed in Messi’s eyes. And then I remembered it: those were the eyes of ‘Totín’ when he became crazy for the sponge.”

“I had a dog in childhood called ‘Totín’. Nothing moved him. He wasn’t a smart dog. Thieves came in and he just watched them carry the TV out. The buzzer rang and he didn’t hear it. However, when someone [my mother, my sister, myself] grabbed a sponge—a particular yellow sponge for washing dishes—Totín became mad. He wanted this sponge more than anything in the world; he wished with all his heart to take this yellow rectangle to the doghouse.”

“I showed it to him holding it in my right hand and he focused on it. I moved the sponge from one side to the other and he never stopped looking at it. He couldn’t stop looking at it. No matter how fast I moved the sponge, Totín’s neck moved with equal speed through the air. His eyes had the searching look of Sherlock Holmes. I discovered this afternoon, watching that video, that Messi is a dog. Or a man-dog. That’s my theory. Messi is the first dog ever who plays soccer,” concluded Casciari.

I also found that Casciari’s is the best explanation for Messi’s talent.

Dr. César Chelala is an Argentine writer and soccer fan.

About the Author
César Chelala is a physician and writer born in Argentina and living in the U.S. He wrote for leading newspapers all over the world and for the main medical journals, among them The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Japan Times, The China Daily, The Moscow Times, The International Herald Tribune, Le Monde Diplomatique, Harvard International Review, The Journal of the American Medical Association, The Lancet, Annals of Internal Medicine, and The British Medical Journal. He is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award and two national journalism awards from Argentina.
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