Lionel Messi: Legend or Hype?

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Lionel Messi: Legend or Hype?
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Lionel Messi has become the singular focus of all adulation after last night's impressive demolition of Arsenal. The Argentine is already being compared to Diego Maradona, but...

 

...Is He Really That Good, or Is It Just Hype?

As one opened the newspapers this morning, just about every football editor proclaimed Lionel Messi to be one of the greatest players they had ever seen. Messi's showing last night was nothing short of phenomenal, as he teased Arsenal's crippled defence like the strippers in Vegas.

The "World's Greatest Player" comments kept flowing in and just about everyone wet themselves whilst salivating over the Argentine's genius. But the fact that Arsenal fielded probably their weakest team of the season last night seems to have been forgotten.

Messi tore through their defence repeatedly, but even a Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, or David Villa would have likely done the same. Arsenal went into the game knowing they were playing with their "B" team and knowing they had to win. Their defensive aptitude was thus comparable to that of Burnley.

Messi had already scored three hat-tricks before last night's four-goal onslaught, however only one, in a game with Valencia, was against a team of considerable standing. The three strikes against Zaragoza were superb, but even Seydou Keita had scored thrice against this team in their earlier meeting.

There is no doubting Messi's genius, but comparing him to all-time greats does seem a bit premature and also obsessive. The media seems to be in this constant hype to proclaim one player or the other as the "Best in the World" and this relentless thirst means changing one's opinion once every two months.

This year, arguably, Messi has hit the form of his life and laid a firm claim to regain his "World Footballer of the Year" title. However, one does feel that playing for one of the best teams seen in the last two decades certainly aids the Argentine’s cause. The ball distribution of Xavi and Iniesta often leaves opponents as confounded as Messi’s twinkle toes.

 

The Master and the Protégé

When Diego Maradona arrived in Europe, he had already put in six highly impressive years in Argentina. His final two years with Argentinos Juniors saw him do some of the most extraordinary things ever seen; "El Pibe" scored 69 goals in just 72 appearances during that period and earned himself a call to Boca Juniors.

One of the characteristics which one often tends to forget when comparing players of two different eras is the evolution in the game of football. During most of Maradona’s playing days, the tackle from behind was completely legit, the playing surfaces were nowhere as good as today’s, and the ball was not as responsive either.

One of the most critical aspects of Maradona’s career, which made him the stuff of folklore, was his ability to compensate for his ordinary teammates. The triumph of ’86 was due to his brilliance alone rather than those around him. The Neapolitans revered him because they knew the team hardly stood a chance without him.

Maradona never had the talent of the current Barca squad around him. Rather, it was his flair that lifted the rest of the team. For Messi to be talked about in the same breath as his national coach he will have to undoubtedly prove himself at the national level and be able to sustain his current form for the best part of the next few years.

More than anything else, Messi shall truly have the chance to silence all his doubters in the space of the next few weeks. He travels to Santiago Bernabeu where he will have a chance to propel the Blaugrana ahead in the La Liga race. He may have dominated Los Blancos over the past few years, but this season they have a defence which actually earns their salaries on the field.

Similarly, in two week’s he will be up against the meanest team in Europe in the form of Inter Milan. The roughing which the Inter players gave Chelsea reminded one of the old days. In Lucio, Walter Samuel, and Esteban Cambiasso, Messi meets his fiercest adversaries yet.

For many he is already the greatest player to have descended on the football pitch, but for some, despite Messi’s brilliance being undeniable, he needs to go a bit further to claim that venerated status once and for all.

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