It is widely known that there are two ways of stopping Argentine Lionel Messi, arguably the best soccer player in the world, from making a play: 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 football field, it is the second one that has been tried by players from all teams up against Barcelona.
I once jokingly asked a friend of mine: “If you are inside a spaceship looking at a football 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 other 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 game between his team Barcelona and Roma for the Gamper Trophy Match, however, things took an ugly turn.
In the 34th minute during the first half of the game, Messi was clearly upset by Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, a Roma player. A heated exchange between the two began after apparently Yanga-Mbiwa leaned against Messi with his forehead. Uncharacteristically , Messi reacted by grabbing Yanga-Mbiwa’s throat and head-butting the French defender playing for the Italian team.
The physical exchange between both players could have easily resulted in both receiving a red card and being eliminated from the game. Fortunately, they only received a yellow card, allowing them to remain on the field. Yanga-Mbiwa’s harsh physical attack against Messi, however, didn’t stop the Argentine player from scoring a beautiful goal. Barcelona defeated Roma 3-0.
Despite some lacklustre 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.” When 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 favour 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.” When asked “Messi?” he responded, “Fantastic.”
Ibrahimovic’s opinion is echoed by Pelé, 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 Pelé. I rest my case.
Dr Cesar Chelala, an Argentine writer, is a football fan