Lionel Messi is blessed with extraordinary soccer talents of which most of the world is now aware.
His incredible close control allows him to weave between opponents, dodging tackles with the ball virtually stuck to his left foot. His sense of space and timing makes it seem like everyone around him is playing in slow motion. But possibly Messi’s greatest asset, and the one that may set him apart from brilliant predecessors, is his mentality.
Barcelona’s No. 10 is the rare World Player of the Year who is not driven or influenced by ego. He is a kid who simply enjoys playing the game, and doesn’t seem to care about his personal goal tally or whatever individual accolades he might collect.
The greatness of the current Barcelona side is a result of how every player’s individual talents are united in a collective spirit. Messi, the greatest player on the planet at the moment, is just one of that collective when he pulls on a Barcelona shirt. He is an exemplary teammate, as shown by his willingness to give up a penalty which he had won so that the faltering Zlatan Ibrahimovic could break his scoring drought.
Past winners of the Ballon’Dor and FIFA World Player awards have had a tendency to let their success go to their heads.
Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Cristiano Ronaldo started playing like they knew they were No. 1.
Ronaldo moved from club to club, seemingly unconcerned with how his teams fared as long as he got his requisite 20 goals a season to prove he could cut it anywhere.
Ronaldinho behaved like a rock star; he stopped training regularly and held on to the ball a little too long as he regressed into self-indulgence.
Cristiano Ronaldo kicked out in retaliation at the special attention he received from defenders, and threw various tantrums at teammates and coaches when he thought they were jeopardizing his chances to be England’s top scorer.
Even the great Zinedine Zidane played with a certain aloofness and arrogance, as if it was a heavy burden for him to be the best player of his generation.
Messi has followed his greatest season ever with an even better one. He has elevated and augmented his game, adding curling shots from outside of the box and free kicks to his repertoire. No team has known in advance quite where Messi will play or where he will turn up on Barca’s frontline; he floats from right to middle to left, playing the roles of support striker, winger, and lone striker all with equal success.
Lionel has simply been unstoppable in most matches this season. His frightening footballing abilities are maturing, but his secret is that he is already mature inside. He lacks the looks, personality, and eccentricities of other superstars, but that could be what elevates him above the rest for the duration of his career.