By Promise Adiele
His Tribute to Lionel Messi dexterity is awesome – sleek, smooth, slippery, elegant, and sure-footed. He engineers the game with admiring ease and a dignifying refinement that underscores his modest demeanour. Some people ascribe supernatural qualities to him, arguing his celestial provenance which reminds us of the Biblical assertion in Acts 14:11 – “the gods have come down to us in the likeness of men”. People ask – is he human or is he from another planet? On the field, he does impossible things that his fellow footballers can only imagine. Not the tallest man in the world, but he accomplishes feats tall people can only dream about. His football wizardry unites heaven and hell in a momentary embrace, defies the law of gravity, disarms the satanic host, and synthesizes all opposites in humanity. His name is Lionel Andres Messi, the diminutive Argentine soccer god whose personality symbolizes a confluence of innumerable possibilities.
Football commentators have run out of adjectives describing the little magician. There is no one like him in football. It is difficult to prognosticate if there will be another after him. He has defied all odds to emerge as football’s Greatest of All Times. Like the Shakespearean colossus that bestrides the entire world, Messi has majestically dominated the pinnacle of football hemisphere. He is incomparable and absolutely so.
Born on the 24th of June 1987 in Rosario Sante Fe Argentina, Lionel Andres Messi is the third child among four children. His father worked in a steel factory as a manager, and his mother augmented the family’s income by working in a magnet manufacturing company. Both parents have Italian ancestry and are devout Catholics which is why Lionel Messi always makes a sign of the cross, looking up to heaven each time he scores a goal.
Growing up for the little magician was not easy. He suffered birth defects which affected his growth and stature. At the age of ten, Lionel Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. It cost his parents about $1,000 to treat him every month and because his father’s insurance policy could only cover his treatment for two years, the family faced a serious dilemma. His club Newell Old Boys agreed to foot the bill but reneged on their promise. Then the Spanish club, Barcelona came to the rescue. The rest, they say, is history. Like the Biblical lamp that cannot be hidden when lit, he overcame all the initial difficulties of birth to emerge the greatest footballer of all time. There is no basis for argument. His story is inspiring and justifies the existence of God in humble beginnings.
Lionel Messi has won everything on offer in the football menu. In 2005 in the Netherlands, he led the Argentine youth team to win the World Youth Championship, beating Nigeria’s Mikel Obi in the finals. He emerged top scorer in that competition with six goals. At the age of 18, he made his first senior international debut in a friendly match against Hungary. He scored his first senior international goal in a friendly against Croatia in 2006. During the 2006 world cup, he featured against Serbia and Montenegro and became the youngest Argentine player to play at the world cup. His goal in the 6-0 rout made him the youngest scorer in the tournament and the sixth youngest goal scorer of the World Cup.
In 2008, he led his country to win the Beijing Olympic soccer gold. In 2021, he led his country’s national team to win the South American continental showpiece Copa America. In 2022, he also won the CONMEBOL – UEFA Cup of Champions with the national team. Everyone agreed that Lionel Messi would be the greatest footballer of all time if he could win one trophy that eluded him – the World Cup, the ultimate Holy Grail of football. In December 2022, in a classic final between Argentina and France, Messi, against all odds, led Argentina to glory, lifting the FIFA world cup in Qatar.
At the club level with Barcelona, Messi won ten La Liga titles, seven Copa Del Rey titles, seven Super Copa de Espana, four UEFA Champions League titles and three FIFA Club World Cup. With his current club PSG, he has won the Lique 1 title once and the Trophee des Champions once. He has won the Ballon d’Or a record seven times and FIFA world player of the year once in 2009. In 2019, he emerged as the Best FIFA men’s player of the year. He has won the European Golden Shoe a record six times, FIFA World Cup Golden Ball twice in 2014 and 2022. He won the FIFA Club World Cup golden ball twice in 2009 and 2011. He has been La Liga’s best player six times and Argentina’s Footballer of the Year fourteen times.
Lionel Andres Messi has been compared to many great footballers the world has witnessed but on a closer, impartial and unbiased scrutiny, all the footballers compared to him unceremoniously pale into insignificance. Shall I compare Messi with any footballer dead or alive? No, because on the ball, he quickens the spirit, energizes the sensibilities, and inspires the despairing soul.
The Brazilian football legend Pele immediately comes to mind having won the world cup on three occasions. Pele is a great footballer no doubt but he doesn’t come close to Messi. He won the world cup three times, never won Copa America, never played in Europe or won the UEFA Champions League, and never won the Olympic soccer gold. Lionel Messi is the only footballer who has won everything in football.
There was Kaka of Brazil, considered one of the greatest players of his generation, but he never won anything at the youth level, not the Olympic soccer gold or the South American continental showpiece.
There was Diego Maradona. He won the World Cup but never won the Champions League or the Copa America. He didn’t win the Olympic soccer gold too. There was Ronaldo de Lima (The real Ronaldo) but he didn’t reach Messi’s height. There is Cristiano Ronaldo, a great player by every stretch of the imagination but can only dream of what Messi does with the ball. He has not won the World Cup, the Olympic football gold or any world youth championship. There is Neymar too who can only wish to be Messi. The new kid on the block is Kylian Mbappe, young with the potential to achieve much, yet, Messi currently stands out as the world’s greatest footballer.
All hail Lionel Messi, king of football. All hail his womb of birth. His simplicity is disarming. His unassuming disposition is worth emulating. His humility transcends the understanding of mere mortals. He is Argentina’s finest footballer, and the world’s most decorated footballer, the quintessential soccer star who sacrifices personal glory for the collective good of his team. When will the world see another? When will the world witness another player with scintillating, crazy, snake-like dribbles? When will the world witness another footballer climb the podium to receive many awards? When will the oceans of the pacific roar in celebration of a football maestro? Will Argentina give us another or will another country produce the next soccer magician? The world awaits with crossed fingers and huge expectations. As Messi slowly glides into retirement, let the heavens continue to blaze his dominance. All hail King Leo.
Promise Adiele PhD teaches at Mountain Top University, Promee01@yahoo.com
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