The footballing world watched on in utter amazement and delight yesterday as Messi's Barcelona put 7 goals past a hapless Bayer Leverkusen side in a UEFA Champions League game at the Nou Camp. For the first time ever, we saw one person score 5 goals in a Champions league game and it so happened to be no other person than Lionel Messi.
Yes, the number of goals may be a new record which I think he can better in the years ahead, but it's more the manner and the sheer class with which he scored the goals that made many a football enthusiast admire this rare talent that has emerged in this generation.
Of course, we all knew about his ability already but his display yesterday has put him in another League. The way in which he made the difficult act of scoring spectacular goals look so easy was just a joy to watch. One was a left foot lob, another a delightful right foot lob, then a careful control from an acute angel, a laser-guided placement with his left foot and then a drive through a number of opposing players. His unique sense of picking the right moments in games to do what he does best is simply quite extraordinary.
He has often been compared with the Legendary Pele and his fellow country man Diego Maradona as to who is the greatest player ever but I will dare to say that even these legends will secretly admit that it's just a matter of time before this boy from the backside of Rosario, Argentina supersedes their achievements if he hasn't already done so. Considering the fact that Messi is only 24 years of age and has at least 10 years of top flight football in him, the prospect of what he could achieve can be incredible.
It's almost inconceivable that the world would never have seen what happened yesterday had it not been for the Barcelona scouts who intervened to save his career when he was being given up on. River Plate, one of the biggest clubs in the Argentine First Division who wanted to sign him from Newell Old Boys Club in Rosario, soon discovered that his inability to endure playing for 90 minutes was due to the absence of a growth hormone that hindered his normal physical development as a person. He looked so tiny for his age at the time that, they were not sure if he could develop physically to meet the demands of the modern game even though his talent was never in dispute. The money needed to put him on a special dieting program was just too much they couldn't afford it. They gave up on him but thankfully, he was spotted and taken to Barcelona's La Masia's training academy and the rest, they say, is history.
Talking about humble beginnings, his first contract was signed on a white handkerchief because his Dad was so frustrated with the directors of Barcelona at the time due to their indecision about his son's future that, he gave Charles Rexach, the Director of football at the time a brief window of opportunity to make up his mind. Either they give him an answer there and then or forget about Messi forever once they fly back to Argentina. His exploits today has proven that it doesn't matter where you begin in life but rather, it's about you believing in your unique abilities and giftings given to you by God regardless of your size, age, race or gender.
As great as the current Barcelona team is at the moment, it is my firm conviction that if you pluck Messi out of this team, they would not have achieved as much as they have. He brings a certain quality to the team which puts them way above any other team at the moment. When games are tight, he is the only one that can come up with some special instinctive play capable of breaking down opposing teams whereby creating opportunities to score goals.
The flip side of the above argument is that, even the greatest players will find it very difficult to perform at their optimum when they are either surrounded by mediocre players or the team they find themselves in doesn't play to their strengths. This may well be the reason why he is yet to hit the same dizzy heights with the Argentine National Team as he's done time and time again with his Club side.
With all that he's achieve so far, hearing him speak just makes you believe why he may go on to accomplish much more. He seems to exude this important virtue of humility which is vital not only to help get you to the top of your game but more importantly, to stay there. There isn't any air of "superstardom" about him. His lifestyle is just simple, both on and off the pitch. I'm yet to hear any news about Messi involved in any "off the pitch" incidents that you so often associate with English Premiership players. He just seems to enjoy playing in huge stadia as much as he did when he played on the streets of Rosario.
So is he the greatest player ever? The legendary Pele seems to think he is the best by far in the world at the moment. Most football Managers, fellow professionals and the football community at large seem to think he is the best ever even though he's yet to lead Argentina to Word Cup glory. I would not dispute that either. I think we haven't seen the best of him yet. He is simply sublime.
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