Again, as part of the Our 10 Men of 2010 feature, here is the bit on Lionel Messi, whom Jonathan Pippard and Tony Harper fanboy over. There are no Star Wars references, and again, there is probably not a lot that is Brand New Information for many of you, but it's still a good read. :) And away we go!
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10 REASONS WHY LEO DESERVES EVERY SUPERLATIVE
Words: Jonathan Pippard, Tony Harper
In football, unlike tennis or golf, swimming or track and field, there is no clear way to determine number one. And yet it seems many agree: Leo Messi is the choice of most football fans and, more tellingly, the players too.
Messi may not have gone as far as he would have liked at the 2010 World Cup but he has just enjoyed another year of phenomenal individual performance as the fulcrum of Barcelona’s famed attack.
The 2009 World Player of the Year might not win the trophy back-to-back, although he is in the running for the award to be decided in January, but another of the nominees believes he stands alone at the sport’s summit.
Xavi Hernández, with a World Cup winners medal to his name, puts Messi above any of the Spanish players who won the title in South Africa.
“A player like him only comes around once every 50 years,” Xavi says. “The only reason the rest of us have any chance of winning this year is because the World Cup didn’t turn out too well for Argentina, because if it had, then it would be no contest.”
Messi, let’s not forget, is just 23, so there is plenty of time to place him in historical context. At this stage he appears destined to form a holy trinity alongside Brazilian Pelé and fellow Argentine, Diego Maradona.
Ask Xavi and he puts Messi in second, at least.
“In my view, Leo is now even better than Maradona was. He’s going to be at the very top for many years to come, there’s nobody like him.”
Messi marched through 2010 with awards, a goal-a-game record and special achievements. He did so in his humble nature, befitting a young man who came up the hard way.
Football+ looks at 10 key moments in 2010 which add up to one clear conclusion: Messi is the best player in the world.
1. Scores his 100th goal for Barcelona
In Barça’s 4-0 thumping of Sevilla in January, Messi became the youngest player to score 100 goals for the Catalan club. Aged just 22 years and 206 days, Messi was 19 months younger than the previous record holder, Mariano Martin. Messi’s goals came in just 188 games and this season he has increased his strike rate.
“I congratulate him. It’s outrageous to have done what he has at his age,” said Barça coach Pep Guardiola. “It only depends on him to break all possible records. He has some very, very high numbers.”
Praising the example Messi sets with his deeds, Guardiola also gave an insight into Messi’s intense drive and focus. “What we like about him is his endless ambition,” he said. “I can tell he wants more. The figures show what a great trajectory he’s had and he’s a great example for future generations.”
Afterward, Messi revealed important goals brought him more pleasure than pretty ones. “I remember the important goals,” he said, “the ones in the finals, more than the nice goals.”
2. Becomes a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF
Messi had a difficult childhood. Diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency as a child, but with his family struggling to afford treatment, he was lucky enough to have his football talents noticed by Barcelona’s sporting director Carles Rexach. Messi signed for the Barça youth team with the club agreeing to cover his medical bills. Ten years later, he is the one lending a hand to kids in need, after accepting an offer from charity organisation UNICEF to become a goodwill ambassador - a role taken on by celebs who use their fame as a means to draw public attention to the plight of underprivileged children.
“I know there are children in trouble that are sick, that can’t eat properly, that have no education. I want to collaborate and contribute my grain of sand to improving the situation.”
Later in the year Messi would make his first field visit for the charity, giving his time up to spend a day with a group of delighted children in earthquake-ravaged Haiti.
3. Scores back-to-back hat-tricks in La Liga
In March, Messi became the first Barcelona player to score consecutive hat-tricks in La Liga during an amazing run of eight goals in one week.
After slotting three against Valencia, Messi contributed two in a 4 - 0 champons league win against Sturttgard. He almost missed the next league game, against Real Zaragoza because of a tooth pain, but went on another rampage, with the first three goals in a 4-2 win. He was set to grab a fourth when he was brought down and then allowed Zlatan Ibrahimovic to take the spot kick.
Zaragoza coach Jose Aurelio Gay was not the first to be astonished by Messi’s magic tricks. “We were unable to stop an incredible player,” Gay said. “We were able to hold our own except against Messi. It was like watching Maradona again but this time with more turns and a lot faster.”
Barca president Joan Laporta acknowledged Messi’s double feat by describing him as “the best player in the world and the best in the history of football,” adding, “along with (Johan) Cruyff and (Diego) Maradona he is the best player we have seen at Barca”.
Guardiola said Messi played “in a lot of pain”. “But before the game I asked if he wanted to play and he said yes. I asked him how many minutes and he told me the whole game. He always wants to play, whether it’s the Champions League final or against a third division side.”
4. Four goals demolish Arsenal in a Champions League quarter-final
This match, at the Nou Camp in April, was billed as an encounter between the two best exponents of beautiful passing football. With Barcelona hold the advantage after a 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal’s Nicklas Bendtner silenced the home crowd with an early goal.
The Gunners missed another clear opening soon after and then Messi stepped in to take complete control. For the next 80 minutes the little maestro dominated the game, scoring four goals full of class and confidence, with the highlight an audacious chip over an on-rushing goalkeeper Manuel Almunia. Messi’s master class not only rocketed Barcelona to another Champions League semi-finals berth, but it also saw him overtake Rivaldo as the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer in the competition.
“For me, he is the best player in the world by some distance,” raved Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. “He is not always in the game, but when he is, he is really dangerous. Once he is on the run with the ball he is unstoppable. He’s the only player in the world who can change direction at such a pace.”
5. Scores in El Clásico to send Barcelona to the top of the league
The biggest game in the 2009-2010 La Liga season was billed as Messi vs Ronaldo and the prize always looked like being the league title.
Barcelona arrived at the Bernabéu with their season on a knife edge; Ronaldo’s Real Madrid were leading the competition on goal difference and on a 14-game winning run at home.
Prior to the game, Madrid fullback Sergio Ramos talked openly of the Messi threat, saying: “Although Barcelona can have good matches and bad matches, Messi continues to be the difference-maker. He is Barcelona’s most fearsome player.”
It was Ramos who failed to track Messi’s run into the box as he latched onto a chipped pass from Xavi and fired his team into the lead. The goal sent Barcelona on their way to a 2-0 victory. Seven games later they won the league by just three points.
Messi’s fellow Argentine, Ossie Ardiles, said, “Messi is out of this planet, he is so far ahead of the rest of the players playing right now and historically as well. There are not words to describe him.”
6. Barca till I die
In the modern football world, loyalty often comes a distant second to pay check in determining the future of professional players. So when the best player in the world publicly stated that he was going to remain at his current club - the club that made him - for the rest of his life, it was big news.
“I will be here for as long as they want me,” he told journalists, explaining he was in the club’s debt. Barcelona had changed his life and he owed them for that. Growing up in impoverished Argentina, Messi’s football talents were obvious, but his potential - and the family budget - was being strangled by his growth deficiency.
“My father had to take three jobs, but the medical bills in Argentina were very expensive and we still couldn’t afford them, and no team at home was prepared to take a chance and pay them,” Messi says.
Barcelona picked him up and paid for his treatment until he was 16. One year later he cracked the first team, and so began his incredible rise.
7. Stunning performance against Nigeria
For many, Messi was just one of the world’s top football names who didn’t fulfill their potential at the 2010 World Cup. After his goal-scoring exploits in La Liga, it seemed a formality he would find the net early and often in South Africa.
Messi never did get on the scoresheet but his performances were the driving force that took a disorganised Argentina to the quarter-finals. The opening match against Nigeria set the tone. Messi was rampant - constantly showing up the Nigerian defence only to be denied repeatedly by inspired goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, and the woodwork.
Despite his utter dominance of the highly capable Nigerians, Argentine coach Diego Maradona insisted that Messi’s performance was only a fraction of what the young star was capable of.
“So far no player can compare with Messi at this tournament,” he said. “And against Nigeria; he only showed 40 per cent of what he can do. With him, you have so many possibilities.”
The team bowed out to an impressive Germany, leaving Messi to wait four years for a South American World Cup, when at 27 he should be approaching his peak.
8. Captains his country for the first time
With Argentina already qualified for the round of 16 and a number of seniors players being rested, Diego Maradona chose to hand Messi the coveted captain’s armband for the final World Cup group match against Greece.
“His moment has come,” the Argentina legend said. “When I told him, he was very emotional. It’s a wonderful thing.”
Just days before his 23rd birthday, Messi looked made for the occasion as he led out his team and again controlled the match for the Argentines. After he was twice denied by the woodwork his team eventually ran out 2-0 winners, with Messi awarded the man-of-the-match award.
“It was a unique experience - something very special,” he said. Messi appears destined for a leadership role, for club and country, at some point in his career. But whatever happens, he is sure to always remember the day “El Diego” handed him the armband.
9. Barcelona v Panathinaikos
Messi made a stellar start to the 2010-2011 season, scoring a hat-trick against Sevilla to hand Barcelona the Supercopa de España. But it was his performance in Barca’s opening Champions League match that reminded the world of his quality after a goaless World Cup. Messi was at the centre of everything as Barcelona destroyed Greek champions Panathinaikos 5-1 in their first step to reclaiming the European crown. On a night when the Argentine scored two goals, set up another two and twice hit the woodwork, the only blip on his mesmerising display was a saved penalty in the second half.
“He is the best player in the world by some distance from the rest,” said a thrilled Guardiola. “It hurts him to miss and he has this amateur spirit of always wanting to play. Try heading off to Argentina for 11 days, coming straight back here and playing a game like he did tonight; see if you can.”
10. Kills off Brazil
As far as international rivalries go, Argentina vs Brazil is one of the biggest. In late November, the teams met for a friendly in Doha and Messi won the game with another solo special in injury time. He came into the match on the back of a seven-straight game scoring streak for Barcelona, and waited until injury time to deliver the killer blow. Taking the ball 10 metres inside Brazil’s territory on the right, Messi tormented four defenders in a run from the right flank across to the left of the 18 yard box, before sliding home a perfectly-weighted shot with his left foot. In a year where Messi set a host of firsts, here was another: his first goal against Brazil in Argentina’s first victory over their rivals in five years. “This goal was important... because it enabled us to beat Brazil,” Messi said, with typical modesty.
Source: Football+ magazine
Words: Jonathan Pippard, Tony Harper
Disclaimer: Spelling and grammar mistakes are probably my typos, sorry about that. Any factual mistakes are not mine though, so if you have a beef about it, you can contact Football+ and ask for Pippard's and Harper's addresses. :D
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Once again, TYFYT! \o/