The ‘world class’ argument can be a tough one to agree on when you discuss it with your mates.
Everyone has different aspects of football that they enjoy more than others. You can bicker, squabble and fight, taking turns to point out the abilities and pitfalls of each player, but you rarely end up being persuaded.
However, there’s a select group of players who need no backing. You don’t need to argue about their brilliance, you don’t need to single out their qualities, you just say their name and nod. That’s the case for Lionel Messi, because of course it is.
“He is the best player I have ever seen. The best thing about him is not what he does, but how simple he makes everything look. He is not just the best player because he can dribble past three or four players, it is because he does it better than anyone in the world.”
– Pep Guardiola
The little magician recently broke Pele’s longstanding record by netting his 644th goal for a single club – though the Brazilian of course disputes this fact due to goals scored against his nephew in the back garden – with 160 goalkeepers sent a bottle of lager for each goal conceded against the Barcelona talisman.
And yet, while the pain of conceding a goal will never get any easier for a goalkeeper, all over the world they have taken to social media to show off what they might even call a badge of honour; almost proud that they’ve even been afforded the opportunity to grace the same field as the greatest player of the modern era.
Growing up in Argentina, Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency at the age of 11, and while River Plate pursued the talented youngster, they refused to pay for the treatment he would need.
Barcelona saw their chance and invited Messi to their famed La Masia academy for a trial, ultimately offering him a deal which included his treatment being paid for. Barça helped Messi achieve his dreams, so he could help them achieve theirs.
“I made sacrifices by leaving Argentina, leaving my family to start a new life,” Messi later said of his move to Europe. “I changed my friends, my people. Everything. But everything I did, I did for football, to achieve my dream.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. The Argentina international has won ten La Liga titles, six Copa del Rey crowns and perhaps most impressively four Champions League crowns in his senior career to date.
While team triumphs have of course been the backbone of Messi’s accomplishments in Catalonia, personal accolades have never been far behind. He’s won the Ballon d’Or six times, and did so four years on the bounce from 2009-2012.
His ability to produce breath-taking moments of magic is likely one of the things Messi will most fondly be remembered for once his playing days are over, though it’s his consistent brilliance which sets him apart from most.
In the past 12 seasons, the Barcelona captain has never failed to score less than 30 goals in all competitions, and there’s been a run of ten campaigns where he’s scored more than 40 in each season.
Breaking goalscoring records has almost become commonplace throughout the 33-year-old’s glittering career, yet his 2011/12 campaign even surpassed his astronomical levels of expectancy. Messi hit 73 goals in all competitions for Barcelona, surpassing Gerd Muller’s record of 67 in a European season, while he also shattered the prolific German’s record of 85 in a calendar year having netted a staggering 91 goals in 2012.
And in finals alone, Messi boasts an astonishing 24 goals for Barcelona, and that doesn’t include his pivotal strikes at other moments in the respective competitions. The man is a relentless goalscoring machine, utterly irrepressible.
“I was a big fan of Maradona growing up and of the current crop Ronaldo is good, but Messi is the best I’ve ever seen. I don’t dish out praise lightly, but Messi deserves it. I look for weaknesses in his game and I can’t find them.”
– Roy Keane
To this day, Messi continues to churn out staggering numbers, even in the twilight of his career. The question that hangs over him now though is where he’ll see out his final years as a professional, with his contract at Barcelona up in six months and Messi looking more likely than ever before to take up a new challenge.
Though whatever decision he makes in 2021, you can’t deny we’ve been in the presence of greatness since his breakthrough. You can’t say Lionel Messi’s name without thinking world class. It’s impossible.