If you are quote-on-quote decent, or pretty damned good at something, then it’s normal to attract a hoard of people in their bruised ego to look down at you. Let’s say you are a really good singer-then more often than not you are likely to be infused with a barrage of plaudits that goes something like “you are so amazing,” “how magnificent you are” etc. But your fellow musicians? They WILL fucking abhor you. They want you GONE from the industry.
Then there’s another level of greatness. This separates the “good” from the “great”. There’s Kobe Bryant. And then there’s Michael Jordan. There’s Sidney Crosby. And then there’s Wayne Gretzky. There’s Rory McIlroy. Then there’s Tiger Woods. Kobe Bryant, Sidney Crosby and Rory McIlroy are incredible athletes, don’t give me wrong. But they’re not exactly the “saints” that EVERYONE looks up to. In fact, they get a lot of hate. “LeBron is better,” “Crosby is nowhere near Ovechkin,” “Rory? He’s just a little boy. Phil Mickelson is the real man.”
I want to reiterate that hate is good. If you are a polarizing figure, then that’s a great thing. If 55% of the world population want you dead but the other 45% think you are God, you are doing something right. But in the context of sports and making forays into possibly other fields of profession as well, “hate” becomes a more interesting phenomenon.
See, as much as being a “saint” is undesirable because you don’t want to be liked by everyone (if you are, then congratulations: you are probably a worthless piece of shit that provides no meaningful value to the world), if you are SO good at something, then hate, jealousy, doubts, competition all become irrelevant.
You won’t hear someone say “oh, you know, Muhammad Ali… he was alright, but he wouldn’t have been able to compete with modern boxers” or “Michael Jackson’s songs are downright awful and overrated at best”. I am talking about people who are so good at something that all you can do is to just look at them and admire their greatness.
Ironically, these people who not only excel at what they do, but are so good that no one can ever compete with them, are the least likely people to respond to haters. They are ice-cold and grounded. They don’t give a shit about what people think of them.
And from this hectic environment where being “good enough” at something is never good enough, ironically, there’s Lionel Messi.
I think any rational person who follows football agrees that Lionel Messi is unquestionably the best player in the world. This IS the objective truth. From time to time, I hear people say “Ronaldo is better” but these people’s opinions are irrelevant because they derive such a conclusion from a place of ignorance and often times delusion. I’m no hard-case intellectual who walks around blabbering about values and intellectual honesty, so it’s often the case that I don’t abide by the principle that everyone’s opinion should be heeded to in an equally important manner. So, any honest opinion which is so clearly untrue and comes from a place of hatred and sheer ignorance (it’s often times the latter) isn’t worth it to be taken seriously. This will happen. People who say Ronaldo is better than Messi think so because they don’t watch them play EVER. Maybe an odd Real Madrid or Barcelona game here and there (once every 4 months maybe), but that’s it. “Ronaldo is taller than Messi: therefore be must be a much better athlete” is another one I like very much.
Past this petty comparison, things get much more interesting. I mean for goodness’ sake. Ronaldo gets compared to Messi. He should feel lucky that he’s being compared to him. Messi gets compared to Maradona and Pele. Even then, from a pure statistical and talent point of view, Messi trumps them both. Maradona was VERY inconsistent as a player and his club career is pathetic compared to Messi’s. Goal-scoring, passing, and talk about dictating a game… Messi has the upper hand here. And then there’s Pele, who had never played in Europe. Over 80% of his goals came from offside because there was no offside rule back then. His 1000 goals record is a hoax because more than half those goals happened in friendlies. But goal-scoring aside: Was Pele a better passer/playmaker than Messi? Was he a better dribble then? Has he won three European trophies? I don’t think so.
Look, it’s always difficult to make objective comparisons, but what’s undeniable is that Lionel Messi transcends any of these comparisons. Just watch him play. How many times does he dribbles past more than 2-3 players in a game? How many times does he make defense-splitting passes in a game? And how rare is it for him to not score in a game? He does this every game, no matter how strong the opponent is. Man City, Atletico Madrid, and Real Madrid-just looking at this season.
And because Lionel Messi is so good at football, he’s already transcended all his past and current competitors and is being compared to athletes from other sports. Ovechkin, who’s probably the best ice hockey player in the world, had a chance to meet Lionel Messi recently because the Argentinian National Team was touring the United States for friendly matches. He said “Messi is not just the best soccer player in the world, but also the best athlete of all time”. This, coming from the best hockey player in the world. There’s a video of this. Ovechkin gets very nervous at the idea of meeting Messi. He looks visibly shaky. And then when he finally meets Messi, Messi doesn’t even recognize who Ovechkin is. He doesn’t have a fucking clue. Doesn’t even bet an eye. Just a bland, blasé, whatever face. There’s a similar moment where Kobe Bryant meets Messi for the first time. Kobe gets nervous, Messi has no idea who he is.
That gives you an idea of how good this guy is. Did Tiger Woods dominate golf for a consistent period of time as much as Lionel Messi did in football? Did Wayne Gretzky dominate ice hockey as much as Lionel Messi has done with football? No and no. Michael Jordan is a harder comparison to make simply because he was a dominant force in basketball. There are no comparisons. There’s no one who got close to his abilities. But I would say this: Michael Jordan and Messi are on a similar level as far as dominating a sport goes. Messi is still 27 and has a long way to go before his career fades away. Who knows? Maybe Messi will get so good that even Jordan in this absolute prime will look measly next to the giant Lionel Messi. But the fact that Messi is already on his level, or even slightly better, before his prime is frightening.
Messi is not competing to be the best football player of all time, but the best athlete the history has ever known, that by the time he retires, the world will never see an athlete who’s as consistent and dominant as he is. Maybe in another 100 years, but certainly not anytime before that. We should be fortunate to be living with the same era as Messi.