The Blinding Magic of Messi

By Paul Gardner

Let's see now, I think a few well-chosen words on the Barcelona vs. Arsenal game would be in order. Something like this:

Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi, Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi -- Messi. Messi, Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi; Messi -- Messi Messi -- Messi. Messi, Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi; Messi Messi Messi, Messi Messi, Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi; Messi Messi Messi -- Messi. Messi, Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi!!

I’ve read through that paragraph again, carefully checking the grammar and the syntax and the spelling and the punctuation and the meaning, and it all seems fine to me. No exaggerations, no purple prose, just the plain facts.

The game took place in the shadows of a blinding light called Messi. The light got more and more dazzling as play proceeded until in the end it eclipsed everything. I don’t want to hear -- though, of course, I shall be forced to put up with -- all the silly-clever comments from our beloved technical experts, who will downplay Messi and point out that the key figure in the game was really Barca’s goalkeeper, or something equally barmy. You can be sure that

The hell with the experts, let them shut up for once, let them keep their coach-speaking twaddle to themselves for a change, and let the rest of us wallow in the sheer luxury and beauty of a superb performance from a wonderful player. If only ...

So anti-individual, so anti-star has the sport become that it is now virtually impossible to praise an exceptional player without almost apologizing for doing so. When praise is grudgingly given it must always be wrapped up in a qualifying cocoon of ifs and buts and whys and wherefores and maybes all designed to dumb down the player’s brilliance.

We'll start with the opposing coach last night, Arsene Wenger: "Messi can make a difference at any moment in a game. He can take advantage of any mistakes you make ..." which already diminishes what Messi can do. He doesn't create anything, he simply pounces on errors. Furthermore, "he has the team to help him. Barca is more than Messi."

OK, OK -- Wenger has just seen his team slaughtered, and Messi has been the chief executioner. Maybe he genuinely finds it difficult to heap unqualified praise on the Argentine. But I think there's more to it than that. Wenger is a leading member of the species Coachus modernus (a species that, in true Darwinian fashion, is slowly driving Coachus anticus to extinction). As such he feels, possibly subconsciously, that great soccer cannot be attributed solely to the players, and certainly not to just one player -- the coach has to be in there, playing an important, probably key, role. After all, isn’t that what he’s paid plenty of money to do?

Hence the post-game, or post-loss, autopilot switches on, and we’re immediately made to feel that our praise of Messi should be reined in.

If I found Wenger’s remarks too party-pooping, what am I to say when another Coachus modernus turns up and makes matters even worse? None other than Pep Guardiola, Messi’s very own coach, who talked of “behind the scenes” work” (i.e. coaching) and pointed out that “There are many players who know they will not be in the headlines but play out of position sometimes for the good of the team ... If we don’t play well, Messi might not do so well.”

Remember: this was a night when -- in an era of soccer in which defenses dominate and goalscoring is mighty difficult, in the quarterfinal of the world’s toughest club competition, against one of the world’s top teams -- a remarkable player scored four wonderful goals. I for one do not want to hear, for the umpteenth tedious time, all that pedantic coaching jazz.

Of course Messi needs his teammates -- we all know that, just as we all know that soccer is a team game. We do not need to be repeatedly lectured on this point by people who -- to judge from their breathless wide-eyed enthusiasm -- have only just worked it out.

For once, it would have been nice to hear the coaches go to the microphone and straight away, without evasions or apologies, simply praise Messi. This was Messi’s night, why not give him all the praise he deserves for making it such a memorable one for the entire sport of soccer?

Yet it was not a coach, but a goalkeeper, Arsenal’s Manuel Almunia, who got it right: “He is a brilliant player. He was fantastic, he was great tonight. I think he is the best player I have ever played against and is the best in the world.”

Of course, Guardiola did praise Messi. Mixed in among his qualifiers was this: “There is no way to describe Messi’s performance. There are no words ...”

No, that’s not true. There are words, and here they are: Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi Messi, Messi Messi, Messi Messi -- Messi Messi Messi. And Messi. If you appreciate the beauty of this sport, you will understand those words.

Thank you, Lionel.

11 comments about "The Blinding Magic of Messi".
  1. Jose Lacson, April 7, 2010 at 9:35 a.m.

    I am one believer in Messi and there is no doubt that he is the greatest player in the world but you cannot give all praises to Messi because even Messi himself has said that the team means more than all his goals. You have to praise the team tooas there were players that made the passes to Messi, for him to score. I like Messi because he is a team player, unslefish and he always thinks about his team mates.

  2. Walt Pericciuoli, April 7, 2010 at 10:13 a.m.

    Amen Paul Gardner. At my age it is unlikely I'll ever see a performance like that from and individual player at that level again in my lifetime. As a soccer fan, just enjoy.

  3. fabrice marcon, April 7, 2010 at 10:55 a.m.

    what can we said more about Messi.Like Pele Maradona ( as Player) Cruif and Zidane he is Part of that very limited Club(whith these player it is a love/hate relashionship) but a the end you can only admire the work done.It was beautiful.Let's go argentina

  4. cony konstin, April 7, 2010 at 11:14 a.m.

    Coaching is totally over rated. Players win championships not coaches. When will the US have such players. I tell you when. When US Soccer realizes that the most of the best players who ever played the game grew up in poverty. Where are our future stars. So where are our future stars? They are in the HOOD!!!! That is where US Soccer needs to go. Claudio Reyna forget the Suburbs go to the HOOD!!! and start developing everyday soccer playgrounds for the those kids. Then you will do something big for our country's socccer future. Do not waste your time in the Suburbs. The future of soccer in the US is in the HOOD!!!!

  5. P Van, April 7, 2010 at 12:44 p.m.

    I agree with Gardner's sentiments, though I must fault Gardner for his own lack of description of Messi's brilliance. Yes, I'm serious. Gardner is supposed to be a writer...Is repeating Messi's name the best he can do to capture Messi's brilliance? How about a little purple prose--or at least an accurate description of the goals, moves leading to them? "No way to describe..." is the normal expression for a coach, Gardner's JOB is to write about it, to share some insight that should come with his profession as a soccer writer! I blame him here for what he often says of Bob Bradley: he states the banal and obvious; Gardner does so here about Messi in a manner fitting a lazy writer as opposed to a bad coach.

  6. Tim Silvestre, April 7, 2010 at 1:18 p.m.

    4 goals is amazing, but a hat trick over a twenty minute period in the first half? Astonishing performance, something that I will likely never see again at this level of the sport. Messi was ethereal, often marked by 3 tough Arsenal defenders at times he seemed to be out there all alone. That is not team work but individual excellence. I feel truly lucky to have seen his dazzling efforts.

  7. Kevin Leahy, April 7, 2010 at 5:53 p.m.

    Messi has been doing this for awhile! That is his third hat trick in five games. All the goals are different and all are brilliant! Barca is a breath of fresh air and Messi puts the wind in their sails!!

  8. Robin Buss, April 7, 2010 at 6:04 p.m.

    Great article Paul. After yesterday's events even I was moved to write a Messi blog, although it was not quite as long as yours (but was written before yours). Here it is in its entirety:

    The article was headed

    "Magical, Magnificent, Marvelous, Mighty, Mercurial, Majestic"

    And continued

    "Memorable, Mesmerizing, Masterful, Miraculous - Messi! What more can you say after his four goals for Barcelona destroyed Arsenal yesterday at Camp Nou?" End of blog.

  9. Brian Herbert, April 7, 2010 at 9:13 p.m.

    Many great comments: Tim, Phillip, Ric, and Cony. We are witnessing now what many of us old folks saw when Michael Jordan started turning heads in college at North Carolina, and later with Chicago. I remember wondering about Jordan, "How is he going to top that??? How can he lead his team, via talent combined with heart, to victory in situations where others would falter under the pressure?" I felt blessed as a kid to go to a game and see Pele play with the Cosmos, now I feel I am blessed seeing the 21st Century's Pele. One last thing - every superstar needs someone to motivate them competitively, for Messi that person will be on the pitch against him Saturday, wearing Real's #9.

  10. Armando Acosta, April 8, 2010 at 2:55 a.m.

    Lots of good comments. What a joy watching this player, this team! I agree about the downgrading of his performance, "mistakes"? it's his brillance that make defensers/teams look silly and as though making mistakes, not by any stretch of any inmagination can anyone think that what Messi does on the pitch is easy, only fools that either never played the game or join the craze of suburbia soccer can ever think that. "Totally" agree with the likes of cony and Ric, Rayna needs to know where to search for raw talent; unfortunally, if kids are not playing for $$premier$$ youth clubs...somehow any Tom, Dick and Harry can get the right certs to coach a promising talent to obscurity.

  11. beautiful game, April 8, 2010 at 4:09 p.m.

    No question of Messi's greatness, but any one player needs support. Barca has those players and they make Messi shine more.

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