Messi Is Overrated (There, I Said It)

By Eric Imhof

It’s getting to the point now where if one walks away from the computer for just a few moments—say, to make a sandwich and pour a nice glass of whiskey—she returns to find that Lionel Messi has won another award. Last month he won FIFA’s Balon D’Or (golden ball) for being the best player in 2011, according to this BBC report. He is now only the fourth player in history to have won the award three times.

Call me lugubrious or misanthropic (or just plain bitter), but am I the only one questioning this seemingly unending parade of panegyrics? The Messi-fest is getting quite a bit annoying, if you ask me, and it’s not just that I am a Madrid partisan. Sure, he’s one of the best players around on any given day. And sure, he can, as Maradona said, dribble the ball in a crowd while watching TV. Yet, he plays on the best club team in the world (and that’s saying a lot, considering my bias towards Spain’s capital), which comes with perks, and let’s just say that La Liga is not full of powerhouses this year.

His capacity for weaving through defenses is incredible, especially considering his stature, but the showering of trophies upon him is quickly becoming a lot like the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama; one might rightly infer that the prize is given not for actualized performance but rather simply for potential.

As Tim Vickery (gushingly) explains in his BBC blog post Messi: The best is yet to come: “As the little man himself would say, he has only just started. He should have at least two World Cups ahead of him to silence the doubters. Plus a decade more in the Champions League. The first seven years have been the aperitif. I can hardly wait for the main course.”

Gag.

It’s becoming sort of an automatic and thus trite entrée for people who have never watched nor played a game of soccer in their life to declare, when entering a pub where supporters are already sitting, that Messi is the best player in the world. No need for evidence nor even mentioning any other player currently active in any league. Perhaps I just roll my eyes at any faddish assertion that demands no backing-up, but this one seems especially pernicious, or at least downright silly. The only criterion ever offered is goals, but not only does he trail in that category, but it alone would be insufficient to merit such a perennial coronation.

I’m aware that Messi acts humbly at receiving such awards (perhaps he’s tired of them, too?), and I’m also aware that on any given day Messi can play like the best player in the world. That much is easily granted. Given the right circumstances, he can make the difference between a win and a loss, and that’s why he’s so dangerous to opponents. He can explode with both speed and accuracy like few players have ever been able to.

But Ronaldo has more goals than Messi in less games, Beckham can lead teams with much less talent than Barcelona to consistently laudable performances (and while using a British accent), and even Wayne Rooney (sigh) exhibits just as good a vision as Messi, at the same time taking much more brutal physical (and media-related) punishment. In fact, many of Messi’s own Barcelona teammates are more consistent than he is, which is one reason why Spain dominates the international game and Argentina flounders (although they’re also burdened, clearly, by the weight of Maradona’s rosaries).

Messi may well one day break all the records imaginable and be discussed as the best player to ever play the beautiful game. But his future potential does not warrant current trophies. Or maybe I’m just missing something.

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