I have said it before. I shall say it again. Lionel Messi is the best footballer I have seen since the greatest of them all, Pele.
Last night Messi created history by scoring his 86th goal this calendar year of 2012. A truly remarkable footballing achievement,.
Made all the more enjoyable because it comes via the magical feet of the most humble footballer of his generation.
For the record; the record Lionel beat was that held by German striker Gerd Muller. A 40 year old record of 85 goals in one year.
Barcelona based sports journalist Graham Hunter – author of the brilliant ‘Barça: the making of the greatest team in the world’ – says: “Make no mistake, Barca’s No. 10 feeds off challenges. But the more important part of his greatness, more important than his capacity to leave Pele’s calendar-year record in his wake some weeks ago and now surpass Muller’s, is that the 25-year-old is driven by the lure of his team winning trophies.
“If you are not sure about that then reflect on this. Back in April, Messi missed one of the minute number of important chances which have fallen his way this year that he’s failed to take. It was the penalty against Chelsea which, if converted, might well have sent Barca to the Champions League final in Munich (ironically home to Muller and his extraordinary career). In the dressing room, post elimination, he cried. Hunched over his bench, inconsolable for the team loss and his failure as part of it.”
Graham Hunter is a lucky man. He knows the self effacing Messi and he gets to watch him play. I know Graham appreciates how fortunate he is.
Graham and I are a similar age so we remember only too well how deadly Gerd Muller was in front of goal. But in those days we didn’t have access to watching domestic German football matches. We saw Muller when he appeared for his country in World Cups and European Championships. Muller always struck me as more of a goal poacher than Messi, who can score from anywhere on the pitch.
He makes football look effortless. I love the fact that he is the greatest football of our times and yet looks like someone who would knock on your door on a Sunday morning with a bible under his arm.
I love his quick feet, his determination to retrieve the ball when he loses it. I love his smile when he scores. And I love the fact that he doesn’t feel it necessary to look at the big screen in the stadium every two minutes. He is not in love with himself, as is Cristiaon Ronaldo.
Messi doesn’t feel the need to flash silly, ironic grins in the direction of referees, despite the fact that he is a victim of crude challenges. Week in, week out the much less gifted try to kick him out of a game.
He doesn’t feel the need to take his shirt off when celebrating a goal, or lift his shirt over his head. A smile, a look to the skies, a thumbs up. And always an acknowledgement of the role played by his colleagues in the build up to a goal.
If Argentina were half as good as Brazil in 1970; Lionel Messi would already be the greatest of them all. Pele didn’t win World Cups on his own and it is unreasonable to expect Messi to do so. The rest of the footballing world should be glad he wasn’t born in Spain.
If Lionel was in an identity parade and a ‘witness’ was asked to pick out the footballer, they would never tap Messi on the shoulder.
Pele looked like a footballer. Maradona always looked like a drug dealing thug. George Best looked like a winger, and a swinger.
Lionel Messi looks like a winner. Because he is one.