If any player can be said to be the natural successor to Diego Maradona, then surely it must be Lionel Messi.
Born in 1987, he signed for Barcelona from Newell’s Old Boys of Argentina at 13 years of age, and since that time Messi has been marked for super stardom. But for a niggling succession of injuries, he surely would have been a Ballon D’Or winner by now.
What has always singled out ‘Leo’ as being special is his ability to dribble at speed with the ball under perfect control. Although primarily a winger, he can play more central or even deeper but, whatever his position, when he has the ball at his feet, the fans always expect something special from him.
Since scoring his first league goal for Barça in May, 2005 Messi has become a talisman for the team – his modest attitude off the pitch and his constant praising of the work of his team mates ensuring that the fans always hold him in the highest esteem.
Life wasn’t always easy for Messi, though, despite his prodigious talent. As a youngster, Lionel suffered from a growth preventing hormonal disorder – Barcelona helped tempt him to Spain by paying for his medical treatment. This short stature, ironically, has enabled Leo to have that low centre of gravity that enables him to weave through defences.
Despite being wooed by the Spanish national team, Messi has always been eager to represent the country of his birth – he was voted player of the tournament in the Under 20 World Cup in 2005, where he was also top goal scorer. In the 2007 Copa America he was voted young player of the tournament. He was not afraid to let it be known how desperate he was to represent Argentina in the 2008 Olympic Games and although Barcelona appeared reluctant at first to release him, he ultimately helped Argentina win the gold medal – creating the only goal of the final in the process.
Playing for the national team hasn’t brought constant success, however. On his international debut, against Hungary in 2005, Messi came on as substitute in the second half and was sent off 40 seconds later – allegedly elbowing the defender who was tugging his shirt to hold him back. Then, in the 2006 World Cup, Pekerman, the coach, was the subject of immense criticism from fans because of his seeming reluctance to play Messi in what was, for the Argentines, a disappointing tournament.
And those Maradona comparisons? Well, the great man himself did say at one point that Messi was his natural heir. And if you want to see a carbon copy of the ‘hand of God’ goal then search on You Tube for Messi’s ‘goal’ in June, 2007 – against Espanyol in a local derby, would you believe!
While you’re there, though, remind yourself as well of the goal against Getafe in the Copa del Rey, when the little maestro picked the ball up and ran through just about the whole team to round the keeper and score. If that doesn’t bring back memories of Maradona then nothing will.
Despite the comparisons, Lionel Messi isn’t the second Maradona. A modest, cool-headed, softly-spoken personality, Lionel Messi never seems to find himself in the gossip columns. Instead, he just gets on with the job of trying to be as good a footballer as he can be: and that is as good as any forward player in the world game.
Lionel Messi is a great player in his own right. And he can only get better.