Through Gritted Teeth #26: Lionel Messi

July 8, 2011 § 3 Comments


Lionel Messi relaxes by the seaside.

by Kris Hallam

In the 70th minute of the 2009 Champions League final, 5ft 6in Lionel Messi rose above 6ft 5in Rio Ferdinand to meet an incoming cross. He headed the ball perfectly and it flew over 6ft 5.5in Edwin Van Der Sar.

It wasn’t meant to be that way.

I was assured by many a pundit that he could not score a header. In that moment the team I support, the team I thought were unbeatable, were humbled. I was gutted. I couldn’t even bear to watch the final whistle go. I switched off the telly and went upstairs to my computer where I watched the ‘99 and ‘08 finals on YouTube, and began to harbour a deep resentment for ‘The Flea’ after what he had done to my club. Messi had made Manchester United’s defence look decidedly amateur; two years later in Wembley Stadium he did it again.

At the age of 23 he already looks like one of the greatest players of all time. Certainly he is one of the greatest players of my life, and only time separates him from being mentioned in the same breath as Pele, Best, Cruyff, Maradona and (Brazilian) Ronaldo. But where Messi differs from the aforementioned is that he isn’t even half as interesting as them, even on a day when they’d decided to stay in bed and watch the Eastenders omnibus. Mollycoddled by a Barcelona still suffering from a Ronaldinho-shaped hangover, he’s become the ideal PR friendly role model. During the recent gaggle of Clasicos, there was diving, shirt pulling and grown men pretending to be hurt, all eclipsing the football. It was brilliant. But then ‘The Little Maestro’ ruined it all by doing something brilliant with the ball. He became the kid in school who says ‘OK guys. We’ve had fun. Let’s just do our work now.’

I know how The Undertones felt when they wrote ‘My Perfect Cousin’. Lionel is my Kevin. I’d never be deluded enough to think that I will ever be as good as him at football but the sad truth of the matter is that I’ll probably never possess that level of skill for any activity.

But it’s not just my self esteem that he’s destroyed. FIFA on Xbox Live is continually ruined by snot-nosed teenagers playing as Barcelona and steering his virtual counterpart on a winding run which inevitably ends in a goal. Every kid in academies across the world that shows a spark of talent is labelled as ‘the new Messi’ only to disappear into the sea of average players. Pub debate has been reduced to ‘yeah he’s good, but he’s no Messi’ or ‘yeah he’s good, but can he do it on a wet Wednesday night in Stoke?’ (For the record, the answer is yes. Yes he could definitely do it in the rain against Stoke.)

I try to take small victories against my Argentine nemesis. The best player in the world he may be, but unfortunately for Adidas he’s ugly. He’s got a double chin like a snooker player and he isn’t really charismatic enough to be in commercials. Just watch as he is out acted by some pesky meerkats:

The thing is though, Lionel Messi is an inspiration. He was born with a growth hormone deficiency and although he had Barcelona to foot the bill for his treatment, it’s hard not to admire a man who has overcome something like that to rise to the top of a global sport. On top of that, he is an absolutely sensational player. Barcelona without Messi would be a great team. With him they are virtually unstoppable.

During his time at Barcelona Messi has won five La Liga crowns, one Copa Del Rey, the Supercopa De Espania four times, the UEFA Super Cup, FIFA’s Club World Cup and the Champions League three times. While playing for his country he has not been afforded the same level of service he gets from Xavi and Iniesta, but he still manages to shine [Ed — this was written before this]. He’s already won the FIFA under 20’s World Cup and Olympic Gold, and it should only be a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ he wins the World Cup. His individual honours are too numerous to list, but include two Ballon D’Or awards. Maybe he wasn’t the most deserving of the second — especially after the exploits of Wesley Sneijder and his teammates Xavi and Iniesta — but he was the victor nonetheless.

It’s impossible not to be in awe of Messi, no matter how hard I try. The way he skips past opposition players is ineffable, his speed is astounding and to quote Alan Partridge he has a left foot ‘like a traction engine’. There isn’t a superlative in the English language that hasn’t been attributed to the little genius.

In my humble opinion, Lionel Messi is a boring, goody-two-shoes spoil sport. But he is also the greatest footballer I’ve had the good fortune to see in his prime. I can take some comfort in the fact that he is shit at drawing:

And he has one,as you can see above, one of the worst tattoos I’ve ever seen, and not much of a bulge. That’ll be the growth hormone deficiency.

Kris, when he’s not assessing the endowment of professional footballers, runs Liquid Football. Make him feel all inadequate on Twitter: @KrisHallam.



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