Lionel Messi: Five Reasons Why He Is the Michael Jordan of Soccer
I was asked to write a piece comparing a soccer player to Michael Jordan and to be quite honest, I really didn't know what to do.
Initially, I was going to pick a player from the past, but I would have had to have chosen Maradona or Pele. Articles comparing those two with greats from different sports have been done to death, so I decided to avoid them.
I decided instead to pick a current player and, of course, the obvious choice is Lionel Messi. While the choice of player was obvious, I thought I'd focus on the less obvious reasons that I see a connection between these two sporting greats.
Rather than focus on the championships they've won with their teams, the endless individual honours they've both won, or the fact that they may both go down in history as the greatest of all time in the respective sports, I thought I'd focus on some other aspects to try and make it a bit more interesting.
I hope you enjoy.
Both Deemed to Be Too Small
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Michael Jordan stands 6'6". He's a big man. Well in the world of giants that masquerades as the NBA, he's not a big man, but in the real world where you and me live, he's a big man.
Surely he's never been considered too small, right? Wrong, actually. When Jordan was a sophomore in high school, he didn't make his school varsity basketball team because, at 5'11", he was considered too small.
Lionel Messi stands 5'6". He is neither a big man, nor would he ever be mistaken for a big man. But he's bigger than his parents ever thought he'd be. When Messi was 11 years old, he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency and told that he would never be big enough to follow his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
Thankfully for the world of sports, both men managed to overcome these initial setbacks, but they each did it with different methods.
Jordan was blessed by nature and grew four inches in a year and made his school's varsity team in his junior year.
Messi moved to FC Barcelona and was helped by science. Barcelona put him on a course of growth hormone injections, which helped him grow seven inches over the course of three years. His projected growth was about a quarter of that.
You do have to wonder, had nature not taken control, how different might the world of basketball been without Michael Jordan.
And in the same vein, the current landscape of world football would certainly be a lot different with Messi.
Unquestionable Love of the Game
David Ramos/Getty Images
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.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
If you don't enjoy watching Lionel Messi play football, then you simply don't love the game. Messi plays it in it's purest form and is a delight to watch.
Be it a dribble where he slaloms his way through an opposition's defence as if they weren't there, a slide rule pass to a teammate which leaves a defence looking at each other in sheer disbelief, or one of the calm chipped finishes which have become his trademark. There's simply no more enjoyable player to watch in the game.
Some Real Madrid fans might disagree, but they would be wrong.
Similarly with Jordan, when he was on the court, he was just a delight to watch. Only Magic Johnson could match him for the "must-see" aspect.
Once Magic retired, MJ was in a league of his own in that regard. All-world defensive skills were topped off with arguably the greatest offensive game in the history of the NBA.
Early in his career, Jordan played above the rim and became the poster boy for the NBA with his soaring dunks and acrobatic lay-ups.
As he got older and some of the spring went from his legs, he developed arguably the greatest mid-range jumper in the history of the game. The simplicity of it was just magnificent. Head fake, lean back, jump and release. Sounds easy right? He made it look that way, but it was still great to watch.
Aside from both of these players being universally liked for their athletic ability, it's pretty hard not to like their personalities as well.
Messi is a humble man who doesn't crave attention and constantly diverts praise and admiration onto his teammates, such as Andres Iniesta and Xavi. When he's interviewed, he always comes across very well and hasn't fallen in love with talking about himself the way others have.
Jordan had a bit of arrogance about him, that can't be denied, but it was the type of arrogance you could accept because he was just that damn good. He had earned the right to be a little bit arrogant.
He also had a smile that made it impossible to hate him. When he won his sixth and final NBA title, the smile that lit up across his face was the same small smile he wore when he sank that 15-foot jumper to help the North Carolina Tar Heels win the NCAA national championship in 1982.
With the vast majority of great players in all sports, it can often be a case of "love them or hate them, you have to admit their great players". With Messi and Jordan it/was a case of "love them or find another sport to follow".
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
As I mentioned before, these are two of the all-time greats when it comes to the enjoyment they give people who pay to watch them perform. That, of course, is a result of their incredible talent and their propensity to do the amazing.
Hardly a Bulls game went by without Jordan doing something that would be replayed on SportsCenter or some other show afterwards. Similarly with Messi, he seems to do some special everytime he goes on the pitch.
Type Lionel Messi or Michael Jordan into YouTube and you could literally lose a day watching their highlight reels. There are almost 100 videos on the site for Jordan that have over a million views. A search for Messi will return almost 70 with a million views or more. Considering he's only 24, that number will rise greatly over the course of his career.
Now, obviously a lot of these videos contain similar images and clips, but I would bet that there's no other player in their respective sports with as many magical moments to be put into a highlight reel.
Some footballers are great goalscorers, great passers, or great dribblers. Messi is all three rolled into one.
Some basketball players are great scorers, great defensive players or great passers. Jordan was all three rolled into one.
Now that you're done reading this slide, do yourself a favour and go to YouTube and enjoy both of these men doing what they do best.
Actually wait, I've still got one more slide, so hold off on YouTube for a minute or two.
Vincent Laforet/Getty Images
There's an old saying that behind every great man, there's a great woman. Well behind every great sporting legend, there's thousands of hours of practice and repetition.
Michael Jordan was legendary for his burning desire to win and his attitude toward practice, which as another old saying goes, makes perfect.
Jordan was a gym rat. He spent countless hours honing his skills and sculpting his body to maximize the gifts he was blessed with.
Messi is known to have a similar attitude. He's first on the training pitch and then inevitably has to be dragged off it.
I've heard of countless managers who said they had to "hide the footballs" just to get certain players off the training ground. Messi once went as far as bringing his own footballs to practice with him just to get some extra shooting practice in!
Without that sort of hard work and dedication, these two men could have gone down the road travelled by so many that went before and will come after them. They could have been looked upon as wasted talent.
Thankfully for them, their clubs, and us fans, they didn't and have been able to thrill us with their genius.
Thanks for Reading
And thus concludes my little piece on why Lionel Messi is the Michael Jordan of soccer.
As I said at the beginning, I've tried to focus on things that weren't the obvious connections and I hope you've enjoyed reading them.
Feel free to check out my homepage for all my previous articles. That homepage also has links to my Facebook and Twitter pages if you wish to follow me.
Thanks for reading.