When you watch Lionel Messi play, you get the overwhelming feeling that he plays football simply because he loves doing it.
You watch certain players, I won't name names, but Cristiano Ronaldo I am looking at you, and you sometimes think that maybe money and fame are their true motivators.
Not so with Messi, he plays the game with a smile on his face and a teenager's energy. It's the essence of a schoolboy playing with his friends on a common green area or a school playground with jumpers for goalposts.
He's playing for the sheer enjoyment of it. He has never lost that, despite all the fame and adulation, and that really is something to admire.
The same was true of Michael Jordan. Jordan's love for basketball was matched only by his immense talent for playing the game. When that love fizzled out following the brutal murder of his father, he walked away from the game and chose to pursue another sport he loved, baseball.
Thankfully, he rediscovered his love for basketball, possibly around the same time he discovered he wasn't very good at baseball, and returned the NBA.
Another aspect in terms of the two men's true love and desire to play their respective sports can be found in the way they carried themselves during a game.
When Jordan was beginning to dominate the NBA in the late '80s and early '90s the Detroit Pistons came up with a set of tactics, called "The Jordan Rules," aimed to stop him.
Of course, they always denied the existence of such rules, but they were there for all to see. These rules consisted of a series of hard fouls shared among the team, all aimed at knocking Jordan off his game or out of the game entirely.
Jordan's reaction defined his attitude towards the game. Rather than seek physical retribution and bring shame on the game in the manner that Ron Arte.....sorry "Metta World Peace" and others have made their name from, Jordan picked himself up, brushed himself off, smiled and vanquished his opponents by upping his game and making them pay where it matters, on the scoreboard.
Similarly with Messi, teams have taken to trying to kick him out of games and draw a reaction from him. Messi is above that sort of thing and prefers to get his own back by embarrassing a defender or four and scoring a goal or creating one for a teammate.
As Messi continues to improve year upon year, he is nowhere close to his prime, which is a very scary thought. You have to think that teams are going to resort to physical and sinister means to stop him on a more frequent basis and you would hope that he will continue to rise above it.
My bet is, that just like Jordan, he'll do just that.