Lionel Messi of Barcelona has scored over five hundred goals for club and country. He probably has that many assists as well. And let’s not even begin to count the number of defenders he has left for dead in his wake since putting on a Barcelona shirt.
So you don’t need any more convincing from anyone about how great a player Lionel Messi is.
But even with all the achievements Messi has been able to work towards in his career, there are always people who question his legendary status both at Barcelona and in the annals of football history.
For example. Messi hasn’t won a major trophy with his national team Argentina even though he has a strong set of players to support him. Mind you, he is very close now. Having lost a final of a World Cup, of Copa America and awaiting the result of another one in a couple of days, you can hardly call Messi’s national team career as a complete disaster, but nevertheless, it doesn’t even come close to what he has been able to do for his club side in Spain, Barcelona.
Messi also hasn’t played in any other league other than Spain and hasn’t played for team that isn’t the strongest in the world by a country mile. These are some legitimate question marks but we’ll leave it to Messi to answer these.
Lets focus on the fact that Messi (along with Ronaldo) is, if not the greatest player of all time, indeed a very unique player.
He is so unique that even diehard Real Madrid fans (although that is starting to change a bit now) such as myself, can’t resist the urge to appreciate what Messi does on a football pitch. The way he moves and the way he seems so at one with the football is truly remarkable.
So let’s list the top five reasons why Real Madrid fans, along with all others, should start to appreciate Messi even more:
Way too many players try to blast past defenders. Messi tries to outthink defenders even though he can outpace them.
What is the difference between players like Lionel Messi, Thierry Henry, Valencia, Walcott and Bale? It is this one simple thing. There is hardly a player in the whole world at the moment who can go past defenders with wits rather than pace.
Bale is great and trust me, I enjoy his style of play more than I care to admit, but Bale, is essentially a monster when it comes to football.
He is stronger, faster, taller and more athletic than any elite defender or midfielder. That sort of gives Bale an unfair advantage over the rest of the world. Messi, on the other hand, doesn’t have all that. What he does have is amazingly fast feet.
He can move very well. But that isn’t why Messi is able to go past players with so much ease. I mean, Ronaldo has got quick feet too, maybe even faster than Messi at his peak, but he has to work reasonably hard to go past defenders and even when he does, it is mainly because he is too quick for his opponents.
Messi is able to study his opponent while casually dribbling with the ball and takes it up a notch as soon as he identifies a mistake in their movement or position.
That style of dribbling is unlike anything football has ever seen. Even the likes of old Ronaldo, Figo and currently Suarez, dribble past players by first executing a set of predetermined step overs and when they notice a defender isn’t ready for them, they suddenly do something out of the ordinary to go past him.
All of that is hard and great to watch, but as mentioned before, it is all predetermined. Messi’s dribbling isn’t.
It is almost like he makes new dribbles up simultaneously as he is going up against his opponents
- Players don’t have control over the trajectory of their shots. Not even C.Ronaldo. Messi has it, as did Ronaldo of Brazil before him.
Ronaldo is the greatest goalscorer of all times. There is no point in arguing over that claim. But with all his records and his amazing goals, Ronaldo has never looked like a player who knows precisely where his shots are going to end up.
Of course, Messi doesn’t know either but he has a sense of where his shot would finish more than any other player in history.
Ronaldo scores goals with shots that are powerful and ferocious. But they aren’t well directed. They rarely have a curve on them. Messi shoots the ball to deceive the keeper. He shoots them with such vicious curve that the goalkeeper is helpless even if he has managed to position himself perfectly to defend against it.
And talking about Ronaldo and Messi, let’s not even mention the shooting skills of players that aren’t at Ronaldo’s and Messi’s level.
Just watch elite players like Zlatan, Bale, Ribery, Lewandowski, Diego Costa or even Aguero. Yes they can shoot the ball rather well. But that is mostly all they can do. They can shoot.
Sometimes they try to curve and place the ball rather than blast past the goalkeeper but Messi takes it to another level. It almost seems like Messi is placing the ball opposite to where the goalkeeper is positioned.
That skill may sound trivial but the fact that only Messi is able to do it, makes it rather rare.
- Regardless of which team Messi players for, it is just a pleasure to see someone who isn’t a big massive muscle machine to be competing in a physically demanding sport.
Most sports are now physically demanding. They are so demanding, that most people can’t be professional athletes from the moment they are born till the moment they die.
Given Messi’s physique, height and weight, he was destined to become one of those people. But no, Messi stuck in there and with some help from Barcelona bought injections, was able to make himself noticed in a sport that is ruthless against men who don’t look (and run) like Ronaldo.
Add to that the fact that Messi took the football sport a level above of where it was before his arrival in Spain, is a testament to the man’s greatness.
There are players like Yaya Toure, Lukaku, Baptista (plays for Orlando City in the MLS for those wondering), Pogba and Puyol who are just behemoths on a football pitch.
These are people who weighed two hundred pounds before their sixteenth birthday. With some training and determination, they had an easier task in becoming a professional athlete.
Sometimes I just try to wonder that Messi thought about in his head when he was an up and coming talent as opposed to a king now. What did he think of in order to motivate himself that he could compete with the big boys no matter how disadvantaged he was physically.
I think of that and then I think of his headed goal in the Champions League final against Manchester United when he rose up to head the ball between two giants Rio Ferdinand and Vidic.
- He actually uses his head when on the field instead of relying totally on the manager to instruct him on how to get from point a to b.
And some players are just plain dumb. It might have become a bit tedious for some now, but in situations like these, the player that keeps popping up in my head is Nani.
Now Nani is a player who is fast. Can shoot pretty well and most of all has good dribbling skills.
But the problem with this guy is that he cannot think. He doesn’t know how to mold himself into a package that can deliver when called upon on the field.
Some gurus did predict Nani to become another Ronaldo when Manchester United signed him from Lisbon and to be fair to them, Nani was a more developed player at that age than even Ronaldo.
The difference however was that Ronaldo was mentally much much tougher than Nani and hence went on to become arguably the greatest player of all time.
Messi, who has his own claim on the greatest of all time title, uses his head as if his livelihood depends on it. And in a way it does.
But for all his solo goals, there is one distinct quality that doesn’t get much limelight. Messi’s ability to think.
Messi is the fastest player in history when it comes to changing direction and gaining speed from standstill, but his greatest strength is not just his speed, it is his ability to see what other don’t or just can’t see.
That is what sets him apart, time after time again, at Barcelona to the extent that Barcelona players know that if they keep it clean and quiet at the back and in the middle, Messi will crack open any defense in the world that is thrown at him. That too, inside ninety minutes.
- Messi is a well rounded football player and that is refreshing to see in modern day football where everyone tries to be a specialist.
Nani is a winger, well not in a traditional sense but generally he is a winger and yet he can’t cross the ball with consistency that you would associate with a pure winger.
Nani can run and dribble but can’t shoot and control the ball on the same level.
Then there are players like Zlatan. He can shoot but can’t run. He used to dribble past defenders but now is content to just take the finishing touches on most attacking moves.
Benzema is almost complete aside from the fact that he cannot dribble past multiple defenders and isn’t fast.
Bale’s shooting is awful if we compare it with his speed and free kicks. Same is the case with Suarez who isn’t a great passer of the ball and doesn’t have raw pace but can finish well with both feet.
Messi on the other hand, is definitely not as complete of a football player as Ronaldo, but after him, Leo is probably the most complete player in the world at the moment.
He can shoot, finish, take free kicks, make assists, make long ball, go past defenders, stay stable and calm under pressure and what not. Perhaps his heading ability is a weak spot but apart from that, there is no weakness in Messi’s game at the moment.
Messi brings something to football that very few players can and have and that is, a genuine sense of attachment to the game.
Yes, Ronaldo is more ambitious and has proven himself on more fronts but Messi is a remarkable players who treats his profession as an artist.
In short, Messi is the only craftsmen left in the game of football not because he can go past several defenders in a blink of an eye, but because he treats football with respect and part of that respect is being competent in every department of the game whether it be taking free kicks or back tracking when the ball is lost.