Can Argentina’s Lionel Messi, the Player Everyone Will be Watching in South Africa, Bring Home the C
Editor’s Note: For the next month, BroBible’s team of writers will be bringing you kickoff-to-shootout coverage of the World Cup, including live reporting from South Africa. Before we begin, just a quick note to all the soccer haters out there: Spare us the “soccer is not Bro” comments. If you’re not interested in one of the world’s greatest sporting events, then just don’t read the stories.
Meet Lionel Messi. He’s generously credited with standing 5’7”, and he’s not particularly strong. He looks like he’d be picked in the last three rounds of a gym class kickball draf, and his hair makes him look like he just got off the Crazy Train from an Ozzy Osbourne concert. If you accidentally bumped shoulders with him on the street, you’d probably shoot him a dirty look and think to yourself, “Yeah, I can take him.”
Oh, and one more thing about Lionel Messi: Most of the world considers him the best athlete they’ve ever seen.
As the 2010 World Cup quickly approaches, the media is bound to incessantly shove a number of repetitive storylines down our collective throats. Most of them will probably get boring rather quickly, whether it be England vying for it’s first Cup since 1966, the number of stars (Drogba, Ballack, Ferdinand) who will miss action due to injury, or the emphasis on increased security in South Africa during this global phenomenon. There is one storyline however, that we’re looking forward to following from the tournament’s onset and know will never get boring: Finding out if Argentina’s Lionel Messi the best soccer player of all time.
How do we know that story line will never get boring? Because after just 10 minutes of watching Messi scamper around the pitch– consistently shaking off defenders who are 7 inches and 100 pounds his superior–you realize that he might just be the most exciting athlete on the planet. The reason soccer has yet to garner the national attention in America that it has garnered throughout the rest of the globe is that in our short attention-spanned society, we find it hard to watch a 90-minute game where only 3 or 4 plays may be relevant to the final outcome. We like basketball where teams score once every two possessions, not soccer or hockey where teams seem to score once in every 75. But Lionel Messi changes that. Whenever he touches the ball, everybody in the stadium (as well as everybody watching from home) assumes their rightful position on the end of their seat, and waits for magic to ensue. We’re usually forced to watch soccer under the implication that the play won’t end in a goal, only to be pleasantly surprised when the ball hits the back of the net. With Messi, those conditions are reversed. We watch him under the implication that there is a highlight in the making, only to feel let down on the rare occasion that it wasn’t. Nobody else in today’s game can make our adrenaline rush like that.
Still, Messi has a lot to prove in this World Cup, which is what makes his storyline so intriguing. We can kiss his ass all we want, but that’s not going to put a trophy in his hands. FIFA can kiss his ass all they want–which they have by awarding him the title of 2009 World Player of the Year at the age of 22–but that’s not going to put a trophy in his hands either. More than that, while Messi’s form for club team FC Barcelona has earned him universal praise, his form for the Argentinian National Team has drawn a stream of criticism from the country’s loyal supporters. Diego Maradona, who is widely considered the greatest soccer player of all time, has already dubbed Messi his successor, and as the coach of the Argentinian National Team, has given him the distinguished #10 jersey that he himself used to wear.
The Argentinian masses however are a little more skeptical than their coach with regard to crowning Messi’s achievements. For one thing, Messi’s most impressive performances have come for Spanish clubs like Barcelona and Getafe. Maradona became an international icon by seemingly holding the world captive in the 1986 World Cup. Playing his best soccer with the entire world’s eyes on him, he enshrined himself in the Pantheon of great soccer players. At the modest age of 22, it might seem like Messi has plenty of time, but World Cups only come around once every four years. That means that this will probably be one of two Cups Messi gets to play in during his physical prime. By the time the 2018 tournament rolls around, and Messi is 30 years old, it’s doubtful he’ll still be the face of Argentinian soccer. He’s much more likely to be relegated to the role of crafty veteran. This is the first of two chances for the 5’7” fireball to enshrine himself next to Diego Maradona in the aforementioned Pantheon of great soccer players, and we fully expect him to have a few tricks up his sleeve. Even if those sleeves aren’t that long, on what we can only imagine is a jersey size normally reserved for Argentina’s U-16 national team.
Argentina plays in Group B in the opening round. Their first game is against Nigeria on Saturday, June 12, at 10 a.m. ET, on ESPN.