Anyone with an appreciation for international football most likely would be tired of hearing some of Jamaica’s so-called pundits who claim that Argentinean footballer Lionel Messi is not a great player. They find every ridiculous reason to try and deny what is right before them. Even Pele got in on the act last year but we understand his motivation he being from Brazil and all.
Just this past week I heard Oral Tracey, my long-time friend since high school days, proclaim that Messi would not have been able to accomplish what he has for Barcelona, had it not been for players like Iniesta and Xavi. Retired West Indies opener Wavell Hinds has even weighed in on the issue claiming that Messi has not done anything great for his home country and that takes away from his greatness. If you should listen to Tracey and Hinds, by their definition, no player who ever played football would be great.
Football is a team sport and it is by the function of the individual parts of that team that the team finds success. If each player plays his role well then the team more often than not finds success. We have seen it from the very first time football was played in an organised fashion to this very day when teams like Barcelona and Spain define success in football day.
But if you listen to the local pundits, who for reasons unknown, find it hard to give praise where it is due, you would think that Messi is some bum player who just happens to be lucky, extremely lucky and has been so for a very long time. So much so that this year he has scored more goals in a calendar year than any other player in history – 90 so far and could end on even more before the year ends. This is why every player who has ever played with him or against him hails the little master as the best player in the world today.
Messi is the fourth football player to win three Ballons d’Or and the second player to win three consecutive Ballons d’Or. Messi has won five La Ligas, two Copas del Rey, five Supercopas de Espana, three Champions Leagues, two Super Cups and two Club World Cups. In 2012, Messi made UEFA Champions League history by becoming the first player to score five goals in one match.
He also matched Jose Altafini’ss record of 14 goals in a single Champions League season. Messi became the first player to top-score in four successive Champions League campaigns. He set the world record for most goals scored in a season during the 2011–12 season, with 73 goals. In the same, he set the current goal-scoring record in a single La Liga season, scoring 50 goals.
Messi was the top scorer of the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship with six goals. In 2006, he became the youngest Argentine to play in the FIFA World Cup and he won a runners-up medal at the Copa America tournament the following year, in which he was elected young player of the tournament. In 2008, he won his first international honour, an Olympic gold medal, with the Argentina Olympic Football team.
But by Oral Tracey’s definition, if Messi is not great neither is Cristiano Ronaldo because the latter surrounded by players like Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil, Kaka and company. The great Pele then was a mere cog in 1970 he played with Jairzinho, Rivelino, Gerson, Tostao or the great Carlos Alberto Torres. How then also would he have characterized the great Johan Cruyff, who played on that great Dutch team in 1974 and who played alongside Johanes Neeskens and the van de Kerkhf brothers – Reiner and Willie. Like Messi, Cruyff did not win a world cup but did exceptionally well for his clubs which ironically also included Barcelona, where he was surrounded by great talent.
If we used Hinds’ definition of a great player to define how great a player is then Michel Platini is nothing but another French player. After all, he only played with players like Tigana, Tresor, Rocheteau and Giresse, but France won nothing back then. It is true that with the exception of this year Messi has done very little for Argentina but that was a matter of structure and philosophy. For a long time Argentina stubbornly refused to make Messi the engine of the Argentinean system, preferring instead to go with players like the mercurial Juan Riquelme, who while being talented just didn’t show up in games. In many of those instances Argentina’s success was entirely dependent on what mood Riquelme was in. This current team has now made Messi its centre piece and success has come and Messi has scored 12 goals for his country in 2012. In fact, in 76 internationals for Argentina, Messi has scored 31 goals, a pretty decent record. One would be hard-pressed to find better national scoring records.
Hinds’ definition of what makes a player great would deny greatness to players like the great Eusebio, the Black Pearl, who never had great success with Portugal, even though he scored in bunches for his adopted country but who had immense success with his club Benfica. With them he won 11 Premiera Liga titles, five Portuguese Cups and one European title. His teammate Antonio Simoes once said that with Eusebio Benfica felt they could have won several European titles without him perhaps the League title.
It is the same with Messi. Yes, he has other very gifted players around him. He makes them better and they make him great. It’s what great players do. They stand out from the crowd. When their teams are loaded with talent they still rise above all to produce greatness. That is what many of local pundits refuse to recognise. No one doubts that Messi is surrounded by talent but even with all the talent that surrounds him, he is the one everyone still talks about.