We were lucky enough to see Lionel Messi playing, in the flesh, for Barcelona a couple of months back.
Our observations? He’s not the most vocal player in terms of influencing his colleagues on the pitch. Nor is he the most industrious or hard-working footballer that you will ever see. Indeed he spent much of his time that night strolling around the park as others strived to win the ball.
But the Argentine international, who won a barely credible fifth Ballon d’Or award on Monday evening, is the most naturally gifted footballer that you are ever likely to see.
When Messi’s countryman, Diego Maradona, was in his pomp it was hard to imagine how anyone could ever surpass his football genius.
But Messi has everything that Maradona had and more.
The 28-year-old has that same low centre of gravity. Especially in his earlier years, when he also had the blinding pace, this allowed him to glide past 4 or 5 opponents at a time, just like Maradona.
Messi offers the same level of quality in those moments as Diego did all these years ago. The drop of the shoulder, the deadly pace and the ball seemingly attached by string to his left peg. And he had the end product to go with the flair. Messi is as efficient as he is entertaining.
But the difference is that Messi is the ultimate professional. He is a quiet and modest person who looks after himself and never fell foul of the more seductive and destructive trappings of fame. Consequently his career could end up being almost twice as long and twice as productive as that of his hero.
At 28 Messi has played 535 times for Barcelona and scored 441 goals. He’s made 105 appearances for Argentina and hit the net on 49 occasions.
By comparison, Diego played 588 times and scored 312 goals in his entire club career, with 91 caps and 34 goals for Argentina.
And, at 28, Messi can play for another 5 years at the top level at least. After all, what coach or club wouldn’t want him pinging the ball around from a less advanced role in the midfield in his later years?
Watching Messi at his best is akin to watching a father infuriate his child in the park, as he keeps the ball while the infant desperately tries to overcome his coltish lack of coordination to get it back.
Messi is so much better than the rest that he has the power to make fools of them.
But, perhaps the most noble element to this genius, is that he chooses not to make a fool of anyone. He doesn’t get opponents sent off by diving. He doesn’t showboat excessively. Nor does he attempt to trick referees and he has never publicly disrespected his club, Barcelona.
We never thought that Diego would be surpassed as the best player of all time. But, for all of the above reasons, it is now even harder to imagine a more complete package than Lionel Messi gracing the game again.
At his very best it’s borderline unfair on the opponent to have him in your team. But we, the viewer, should drink in every moment of his fantastic career with Barcelona. Watch him whenever humanly possible. Because there is unlikely to ever be another Lionel Messi.
You can see his highlights here.