August 10, 2021


The little devil who became a deity: Messi exit leaves a void like no other (Sid Lowe, Aug. 10th, 2021, The Guardian)

He has scored 672 goals and registered 306 assists at Barcelona, but then you know that, which is part of the problem: he made the ridiculous routine, no longer news. If Messi had done that, we'd hear about it endlessly, is the line when a less known player does something incredible. No, we wouldn't, because it became normalised and soon repeated. "Messi is Maradona every day," Jorge Valdano likes to say, and even Maradona wasn't that. He has scored more than 20 league goals 13 seasons in a row. Testimony to effort as well as inspiration, the consistency is as absurd as the quality.

Only it's not. Nor is what Messi did always quantifiable. A colleague likes to say that when the Argentinian retires, we may as well do the same, although it might finally liberate, no longer embarked upon an impossible mission to find adequate words, a recurring nightmare where you're looking at dull, battered keys and thinking: so, now what? Asked about Messi after one game, Joaquín Sánchez just laughed: "I don't even know what to say any more." Guardiola once said: "Don't try to explain Messi, don't try to write about him, watch him." It was good advice, or it would be if the beauty, the brilliance, didn't bring joy and inspire too.

There is so much to see, even if you didn't always believe it. It has not been about the numbers; it has been the moments, a highlights reel that could occupy the whole evening, a goals tape to take you into next week, and various phases of Messi, an evolution of excellence. You could list the best, most iconic images - that hat-trick in the clásico aged 19; the Maradona goal, the first he would dedicate to El Diego but not the last; Athletic Bilbao in the Cup final; the Bernabéu run, criminally lost amid all the noise surrounding that semi-final - but someone else would come up with four more and they wouldn't be wrong.

In terms of technical perfection, there may be no display like the 5-0 against Madrid in which he didn't score. Only, there are probably plenty. The point really is that they wouldn't even need to name the goals or the iconography, shirt in hand at the north end of the Bernabéu, say. Some moments are personal, seemingly inconsequential but there to be clung to; everyone has their own, chosen from so many. There is the anticipation before every match, realised with ludicrous frequency and yet with the capacity to surprise intact.

There's the touch, the ball treated gently. The vision, seeing the pass no one else can. Playing the pass everyone else can, but doing it so well it can't be stopped. The way he doesn't so much kick the ball as watch it dash alongside him like a faithful, enthusiastic puppy. Everything really. The shock, the silliness. The bloodyhelldidyouseethat? And we did, over and over. There is a sense of achievement that will grow with the years in just having been there the day that Messi did that, a desperation almost to be part of it in some tiny way.

Nor is it just us, the supporters. At the end of this year's Copa del Rey final, one by one, Barcelona's players lined up, queueing for a photo, not with the trophy but their captain. Which may just be the most eloquent comment of all. There have been neat words, lots of extraterrestrial talk and grand eulogy - Jorge Sampaoli saying that comparing any other player to him is like putting a normal cop alongside Batman stands out - but it's those more spontaneous, speechless moments that best measure the impact, the significance, the superiority, the sense that this is his era which is coming to an end.

Think Guardiola cracking up with that nutmeg on James Milner. Samuel Eto'o's head in his hands when Messi scored against Getafe. Or fans at the Benito Villamarín cheering him and chanting his name. The Betis fans, that is - as if honoured to be beaten by him, to have shared another stupidly good moment, even if they suffered it. In some way he belonged to all of them, not just Barcelona. For Real Oviedo fans, to take one not entirely random example, it is a source of regret, of having missed out on an entire epoch, that he never set foot in the Tartiere.

When Lionel Messi scored a late winner at the Metropolitano on the eve of winning his sixth Ballón d'Or, approaching the Atlético Madrid area like Luke Skywalker flying into the trenches on the Death Star, Diego Simeone followed the move from the touchline. Urging his players to stop Messi but knowing deep down that they couldn't, he said that he had been gripped by a feeling of inevitability. "All you can do is applaud," he said and so, like so many others before but too few since, he did.

Posted by at August 10, 2021 6:52 PM