Through Gritted Teeth #26: Lionel Messi

by Kris Hallam

In the 70th minute of the 2009 Champions League final, 5ft 6in Lionel Messi rose above 6ft 5in Rio Ferdinand to meet an incoming cross. He headed the ball perfectly and it flew over 6ft 5.5in Edwin Van Der Sar.

It wasn’t meant to be that way.

I was assured by many a pundit that he could not score a header. In that moment the team I support, the team I thought were unbeatable, were humbled. I was gutted. I couldn’t even bear to watch the final whistle go. I switched off the telly and went upstairs to my computer where I watched the ‘99 and ‘08 finals on YouTube, and began to harbour a deep resentment for ‘The Flea’ after what he had done to my club. Messi had made Manchester United’s defence look decidedly amateur; two years later in Wembley Stadium he did it again.

At the age of 23 he already looks like one of the greatest players of all time. Certainly he is one of the greatest players of my life, and only time separates him from being mentioned in the same breath as Pele, Best, Cruyff, Maradona and (Brazilian) Ronaldo. But where Messi differs from the aforementioned is that he isn’t even half as interesting as them, even on a day when they’d decided to stay in bed and watch the Eastenders omnibus. Mollycoddled by a Barcelona still suffering from a Ronaldinho-shaped hangover, he’s become the ideal PR friendly role model. During the recent gaggle of Clasicos, there was diving, shirt pulling and grown men pretending to be hurt, all eclipsing the football. It was brilliant. But then ‘The Little Maestro’ ruined it all by doing something brilliant with the ball. He became the kid in school who says ‘OK guys. We’ve had fun. Let’s just do our work now.’

I know how The Undertones felt when they wrote ‘My Perfect Cousin’. Lionel is my Kevin. I’d never be deluded enough to think that I will ever be as good as him at football but the sad truth of the matter is that I’ll probably never possess that level of skill for any activity.

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