Fancy seeing you here at No. 12, Leo.
When we’re old, gray, and tiptoeing on the line of senility, we will all still remember Lionel Messi. Calling him a great player is lazy. What he has accomplished deserves adjectives with better Scrabble scores. He’s one of only two players of this generation who are bigger than the game itself. Everyone you have ever met rightly considers him a godly talent worthy of epic poetry, flattering sculptures and mural-sized oil paintings like the one in the lobby of your post office.
Messi is the ultimate expression of natural talent. When it’s this accurate, a cliché like “he was born to do this” is acceptable. Fans have watched him do the extraordinary for so long that we expect the impossible. Every leap to avoid a cluster of defenders, every sight-unseen pass that intersects perfectly with a teammate’s path, every ball fake that leaves his opponent wondering how he ended up 10 yards in the wrong direction — it’s all god(s) given. None of it seems rehearsed or the result of training, though logically, you know it has to be. There’s no place for logic in soccer. This a game for dreamers. Lionel Messi was born during a full moon on the highest mountain in Argentina and trained by silent monks until he left for Barcelona.
However, #SG25 is about more than Messi’s specific — though provocative — type of greatness. Twelfth position on a list of the game’s most intriguing, fascinating, and exciting may appear to be an insult to Messi, but in reality it’s a testament to how incredibly gifted he is on the field. Intrigue requires a bit of personality and a healthy dose of mystery. With Lionel Messi, there are no more surprises. There is understanding. We all understand that he is a being of singular purpose. He is soccer. The game is encoded onto his DNA.
Take a second and think about the last time you read an in-depth interview with Lionel Messi, or even an off-hand quote in which he revealed something about himself that went beyond his missions with Barcelona or Argentina. Something that made you feel like you gained new insight into who he was as a man. It’s been quite a while, if ever, hasn’t it? We don’t know who he is. He offers so little of himself that it’s difficult to fill in the blanks, though he does seem like the kind of guy who would meet the Pope and bring him a house plant.
Messi’s play is his speech. It is his press conference, his funny Pepsi ad, his brooding adidas commercial. He is who he tells us he is every weekend as moves the ball telepathically and makes the best in the world look like children. He doesn’t need to be witty on Twitter, or analytical in post-game chat to make us pay attention. He doesn’t have to offer us any more than his game — and it would be nice if he did — to remain great in his silence.
The Fake numbers
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