By: St.Clair Sazam Hull
A heated debate at the Bath United Playing field, a few days ago has prompted me to write this article on how good a soccer player Lionel Messi is or can become.
There is no question that Lionel Messi is certainly an all time great. His goal scoring record is unfathomably impressive, his eye for a through-ball is superb and his consummate dribbling skills almost look out of place on a professional football pitch. At times he makes football look like an unrealistic computer game. As a result of this talent and his awe-inspiring appearances for Barcelona many have touted him as the greatest player of all time.
Many prospects have been billed as “the new Maradona” tipped as the men to take the Argentinean throne, but they have all fallen massively short. The Napoli legend indentifies Messi as his Heir though. Diego said, “I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentinean football, and his name is Lionel Messi”. At merely 26 years of age, has Lionel Messi already established himself as the greatest as many ex professionals and journalists would have us believe? The answer is quite simply No! Not even close!
Let the controversy begin, because I’ll venture to suggest Messi is great but it is ridiculous to consider him to be the greatest, he is miles off of that tag. It is arguable that he is not even the best player in the world today, let alone the best player ever. He is merely a benefactor of circumstances.
Everything Lionel Messi does is recorded from a variety of angles, reported on by thousands of media outlets globally and praised in countries that are relatively new to football. The United States, India and Australia just to name a few. These relatively new football markets have opened and expanded meaning that more people are exposed to the exploits of today’s footballers than the legends of the past. Globalization has been responsible for shrinking the world and expanding the global public sphere that football accesses.
Lionel Messi’s goals will be easily accessible in fifty years from now, whereas how many people can honestly say they have a real knowledge of the likes of Ferenc Puskas. The Hungarian legend that scored 509 goals in 523 matches, excluding 84 in 85 at international level. Before Puskas visited England in 1953, England was still undefeated on home soil for more than five decades. The press billed it as “match of the century” the best from the West verses the best from the East.
Nevertheless among the English players Puskas was considered to be no more than a “little fat chap” while his team mates were simple communist-backed amateurs. Puskas put on a master class as Hungary won 3-6 at Wembly. A few months later they played again, this time in Hungary. The host won 7-1 with Puskas bagging a brace. To put this into context it would be the equivalent of a team like Nigeria who were runners up in the last Olympics beating Spain 3-6 in Madrid and 7-1 in Lagos with one star player running the show.
The following year in 1954, Hungary went on to lose the World Cup final against West Germany in controversial circumstances, denying Puskas a World Cup winner’s medal. He then moved to Real Madrid where he had a glittering career. He displayed sheer dominance wherever he went, yet he is barely mentioned as being “the greatest” why? If he had achieved such feats in today’s globalised world would he be overlooked in such disrespectful fashion? Messi does not need to be concerned about being overlooked; his every goal is seen globally giving him a major advantage when he is compared to the other greats of the past.
Lionel Messi’s best attribute is his dribbling, there’s little doubt about that. Is he the greatest dribbler ever? Never. The Brazilian Wizard, Ronaldo was better, he could have dribbled with both feet at the speed of lighting, and around much better defenders in comparison to now. On the other hand, Messi is a sole foot dribbler who has the luxury of playing against most defenders that possessed mediocrity. Let us also remember that Messi dribbles on pristine turf, he does not have to deal with a random unexpected bobble because today’s pitches are reminiscent of the “White House Lawn” in Washington DC.
Praising a player can almost become a fashion as people buy into the hype. It creates headlines to have a focal point of a great team, a figure-head of success, after all sensationalism sells papers. If Lionel Messi has a quiet game, but scores the winning goal it is more likely that a journalist will proclaim the little Argentinean’s greatness and attribute the team’s success to him. This was evident in 2010 when Real Madrid lost 2-0 at home to Barcelona in April of 2010. Xavi was the star man, pulling the strings like a puppeteer and giving two glorious assists, one to Messi and the other to Pedro. Messi took his goal very well as you would expect a world class player to do but apart from that he was very anonymous.
Yet many media outlets did not have Xavi as the “headliner”, Messi was the man that was praised by those reputable sources that usually have some impressive football coverage. Sky Sports opened their report on the game with the paragraph “Lionel Messi grabbed his 40th goal of the season as Barcelona moved top of Primera Division with a comfortable 2-0 win over bitter rivals Real Madrid in the Santiago Bernabeu.”
The benefits of this to Messi’s reputation and career were most evident in 2009/10. During that year Bayern Munich met Inter Milan in the final of the Champions League. Both had won their domestic leagues and domestic cups, and both were inspired by superb individual performances throughout the season. Arjen Robben was the star for Bayern polling 72.1% of the vote as he was elected German Player of year. He scored the decisive goal to get Bayern to the quarters before a stunning volley against Manchester United got them to the semis.
He also scored in the first leg of their semi-final against Lyon as Bayern earned a spot in the final. Their opponents had Wesley Sneijder who went on to win Champions League Midfielder of the year and was the architect of Inter’s season. Inter beat Bayern to ensure that Sneijder had won every club competition he had been in that season.
Furthermore, these two Dutchmen were also part of the Dutch national team that made the final of the World Cup that same year narrowly losing out to Spain. Between them they had the world at their feet, and to make matters worse, Messi departed the tournament without a goal or having an assist. Yet in the vote to see who would be awarded (FIFA WORLD PLAYER OF THE YEAR) Sneijder got 14.48% of the vote while Robben got a mere 7.61% of the vote. Lionel Messi won the award with 22.65%. It is worth mentioning that FIFA WORLD PLAYER OF THE YEAR is voted on by a selected source of journalists, national captains and national team coaches.
This is clearly problematic; the bias among journalists has been discussed. While national team captains are professional players that frequently play at the same time as the likes of Lionel Messi. This makes it impossible to see him play that frequently. Instead they probably get their updates from the same journalists that sensationalize the achievements of Messi.
Messi’s talent is breathtaking, he might very well go on to achieve unparalleled feats, but for now calling him the greatest is ridiculous. In terms of his standing among the greatest, top twenty ever? Probably. But the undisputed best? No way.