Even now, with his career still ongoing, the name carries a mystical, mythical air. This little man from a little town in central Argentina is one part human, two parts living legend and four parts supernatural being, transcending sport, even transcending life itself.
Few sportspeople reach such heights. Many strive with all their might, but only a select few are able to conquer our imaginations, enrapture our senses and propel themselves into history.
Muhammed Ali did it. So did Donald Bradman, Michael Jordan and Pele. In the 21st century, Usain Bolt attained immortality, Roger Federer is on his way to veneration and then, the king of modern-day sporting kings, there sits Messi, implacable and serene on his throne.
It feels petty and deeply unimaginative to reduce Messi’s achievements to plain statistics, but the numbers he has achieved are so stupendous they cannot be ignored.
For starters, 604 goals for Barcelona – a ludicrous 372 more than the second-highest scorer in the history of one of the world’s greatest sporting organisations. Thirty four club trophies, including four Champions League winning medals and no less than 10 league titles.
The numbers speak for themselves. But there is, of course, one very significant gap: senior international honours.
Somehow, Messi’s tragic failure to win anything with Argentina – despite reaching three consecutive finals between 2014 and 2016 – makes his story even more compelling.
Had he casually strolled his way to every possible trophy, his flawlessness would have risked veering towards tedium: there he goes, winning everything again. How boring.
The fact, therefore, that Messi has encountered regular doses of heartache, even drawing outbursts of venemous ire from some of his over-demanding countrymen, reminds us that he is, despite all appearances to the contrary, only human. One of us.
From our perspective as spectators, after becoming accustomed to watching Messi conjure marvels and miracles on a weekly basis, the danger is that we take him for granted.
Let us not. Let us take this milestone, 15 years after his debut for Barcelona, as an opportunity to stop, reflect, and cherish. To cast aside partisan club preferences and just celebrate his magnificence. To be grateful that we have been alive to witness his magic.
To be thankful for Lionel Messi.
On the 15th anniversary of his official Barcelona debut, that is exactly what we will do.
In the below links are five distinct chapters, all hallmarking the genius of Messi…
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