By winning for a fifth time FIFA’s 2015 Ballon d’Or Messi has confirmed what is now widely known: he is, without any doubt, the best soccer player in the world.
What explains Messi’s unique abilities and that he became the world’s best player in the world? And that he continues to break records and win awards? Jose Delbo, a 72 year-old Argentinean fan of Messi who follows every game from his home in Florida, told me recently, “I have never before been so moved seeing a player’s game as I am so now with Messi. After some of his beautiful plays I almost feel like crying.”
Many claim that Messi is the result of Pep Guardiola’s teachings in Barcelona. They seem to forget that as a child, in Argentina, Messi was already a brilliant player. Ernesto Vecchio, a coach from his youth, said, “As a player, he is very similar now to how he was as a youngster.” He added, “He decides in milliseconds what he is going to do with the ball at his feet.”
His exceptional qualities as a player made him the object even of medical studies, trying to find clues to his unique talent. Because of his spectacular speed and brilliance in making decisions, how Messi’s brain works is now being studied by a Dutch physician, Pieter Medendorp, of Radboud University in Nijmegen. Dr. Medendorp hopes to learn “how people make split-second decisions and know how to prioritize.”
Dr. Medendorp is fascinated by how people make quick decisions, particularly when moving. It is Messi’s ability to concentrate opponents in front of him and then almost effortlessly weave through them that particularly interests Dr. Medendorp. “In the field,” Dr. Medendorp noted, “Messi knows where to find the [other players] and then decide not only how to escape from a marking or where to go but also what to do with the ball.”
The retired Brazilian soccer player Pelé said, “I would love to play with Lionel Messi. But Messi is an incomplete player because he cannot use his head.” That criticism opinion is not shared by Argentinean Maradona, who said that Messi “is at a select level, being the best in the world and a star in Barcelona.”
The best explanation, however, may be an article written by the Argentine journalist Hernán Casciari, published in his blog and ironically titled “Messi is a dog.”
Casciari -who doesn’t hide his admiration for Messi- tells how, after watching several of Messi’s goals on YouTube he realized that Messi plays as if in a trance, hypnotized.
His only wish is to see the ball in the opposing team’s goal. He writes, “We must look well into his eyes to understand this: he looks cross-eyed at the ball, as if reading an out-of-focus subtitle; he focuses on it and does not lose sight of it even if they knife him.
“Where had I seen that look before? In whom? I knew that gesture of supreme introspection. I pressed the pause key in the video. I zoomed in Messi’s eyes. And then I remembered it: those were the eyes of ‘Totín’ when he became crazy for the sponge.
“I had a dog in childhood, which was called ‘Totín’. Nothing moved him. He wasn’t a smart dog. Thieves came in and he just watched them carry the TV. The buzzer sounded and he didn’t hear it. However, when someone [my mother, my sister, myself] grabbed a sponge—a particular yellow sponge for washing dishes—Totín became mad. He wanted this sponge more than anything in the world; he wished with all his heart to take this yellow rectangle to the doghouse”, Casciari wrote.
“I showed it to him holding it in my right hand and he focused on it. I moved the sponge from one side to the other and he never stopped looking at it. He couldn’t stop looking at it. No matter how fast I moved the sponge, Totín’s neck moved with equal speed through the air. His eyes had the searching look of Sherlock Holmes. I discovered this afternoon, watching that video, that Messi is a dog. Or a man-dog. That’s my theory. I regret your having read up to here with better expectations. Messi is the first dog ever who plays soccer,” concludes Casciari.
And I also found that this is the best explanation of Messi’s talent.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”