Lionel Messi: Has Genius Ever Been So Underwhelming?
Surely getting to witness the greatest player of his generation, arguably of all time, should be a cause for celebration. Instead there's something about Lionel Messi's unparalleled perfection that leaves me feeling a little hollow.
For one thing, he'll never quite measure up to another Barcelona icon of the modern age. Ronaldinho's elastic-limbed exuberance fired the imagination. He played with superstar swagger and an impudent sense of fun that was simply irresistible.
His tricks were born of a desire to entertain, whereas Messi's carry the sense of someone straining for optimal efficiency, which doesn't stir the soul in quite the same way. He's the paragon of football's new seriousness, which prioritises results to an almost unseemly degree.
Nobody could doubt that he delivers in this respect, as a record fourth Ballon d'Or in a row testifies. But this is part of the problem. He's rendered the extraordinary routine, news of another hat-trick no longer coming as a surprise; an apathetic shoulder shrug the only appropriate response.
Messi racked up an unprecedented 91 goals in the last calendar year, devaluing them as the game's primary currency in the process. Where a one in two strike rate was once the gold standard to which all strikers aspired, it now seems like a quaint anachronism.
This shouldn't be the case. The importance of a goal is predicated on the relative scarcity with which they are scored, yet traditional parameters have had to shift to accommodate Messi's anomalous exploits. By hoarding goals so avariciously he threatens to shatter football's long-standing truths.
Perhaps over-exposure is to blame for my ennui. Whereas past contenders for the crown of world's best would be glimpsed only fleetingly at a World Cup, we're all far too familiar with Messi's brand of standardised brilliance. His Barcelona team is always on TV, demolishing all comers with ease.
Images of him shimmying past defenders before nonchalantly lifting the ball over an on-rushing keeper are so deeply ingrained that there's no novelty value attached to them. No anticipation or sense of wonder at the unexpected. It's pre-packaged and predictable.
Messi's hardly responsible for this development but it diminishes his impact all the same.
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