Lionel Messi and I share just one common element – our birth date, 24 June. Apart from that, I have never been able to appreciate the sheer talent he has because of my own ideologies (Out of Comfort Zone, for instance). One, he plays for a club, which I cannot relate to deep down. And, I don’t intend to articulate here as to why.
I would like to say, there is an emotional connect with the world of sports, and requires a certain amount of instincts to choose a favourite sport or a team. I was never able to choose Barcelona in spite of their success in the past decade. To me, their success arrived a decade after I started following club football.
Talking about Messi, I get an impression that he is a person who needs and thrives in his comfort zone. There is nothing wrong with that. The Argentinian performs at his best when he is allowed to focus on football and nothing else. Reminds me of Sachin Tendulkar, when the burden of cricket captaincy threatened to take away the core in him. Some athletes, like people in other professions are wired that way.
Messi belongs to a league of extraordinary athletes, who are exceptional at what they do. They have figured out what works for them, how and most importantly, why they do, what they do. These supremely talented individuals are not super-humans and they too have their share of bad days, like the other mere mortals who grace the planet Earth.
In the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals, Messi stood to take a crucial free kick in the dying minutes of extra-time. It had been an exhausting final, a total of 118 minutes was played and Argentina was a goal down. The multiple-time World player of the year had come a long way to claim football’s most coveted trophy. At this juncture of play, I turned to my wife (who is a big Messi fan) and said – “This free kick (if it goes in) for me will make him an all-time great, no questions asked.”
Call it my own way of deciding things, the pressure, the expectations and what a grand stage it was for Messi to be hailed as the ‘greatest footballer of all times’. Football is a team game, but, here was an excellent opportunity for Messi to stand tall and level with the past pantheons of this wonderful sport. Even a team sport offers individuals to stand clear from the pack.
I was rooting for Germany, still, I was eager, and curious as to what Messi could do. It was a half-chance, a chance nevertheless. Messi’ kick went off-target, onto the top of the net and it was a missed chance.
Messi, knew it, and he could only imagine, how things might have been different if he had put the ball in and leveled the score. C’est le football, qui est la vie.
In 2006 FIFA World Cup finals, Zidane headed a ball that travelled at great speed, only to see the Italian stopper Buffon, to make the a tremendous block, which would have given the French team, a crucial lead. Post that save, Buffon yelled like a gladiator and I knew, for some reason (those instincts again), the victory would be for the Italians.
There are such moments which a sports watcher like me goes through, without explanation, just a series of thoughts manifested by the events that unfold before us.
Which brings us back to Messi, what would happen with Messi’s decision to retire from international football? Firstly, he would leave football without a World Cup title or a Copa America, never mind the Olympic gold which Argentina earned in 2008.
In this disruptive age of technology and globalisation, the world has been able to witness a football phenomena like Messi, which has resulted him in being a marketable brand. He, too, knows, it was possible because of the ‘comfort zone’ he was in.
Playing for Argentina, it was open news, Messi missed the chemistry and warmth of Barcelona, yet he kept playing for his country and came close to winning titles. This is where I have a special respect for Zidane, though, I never supported France. In the most recent times, at club-level, Cristiano Ronaldo has managed to win titles playing for multiple clubs in different countries, however, he too has failed miserably whenever the Real Madrid star turned up playing for Portugal. Will he inspire Portugal in the on-going Euro? It is an uphill struggle.
Now, where does Messi go from here? He can continue to keep playing for Barcelona and earn the title of being the most committed footballers, in an era of infidelity among clubs and footballers. Or, he can move out of his comfort zone, join another club, that has a group of talented footballers, challenge himself and win titles. By the way, no one will stop him, if he decides to play for Argentina, again. However, those chances appear dim at the moment.
The decision is his and if football players were to be judged purely based on ‘Plays without the title’, Lionel Messi would no doubt be in the top three, if not leading the pack of other legendary footballers.