Messi the Man

Lionel Andres Messi is inextricably linked with FC Barcelona in a way that makes fools, hysterical, blinkered, agenda-waving fools out of anyone suggesting that he would voluntarily leave this club.

From the kid whose contract was created on a napkin, the link to a club that paid for his growth hormone treatments was formed. No, it wasn’t altruism, but rather the steadfast belief that this tiny thing was a player that nobody had seen the likes of. He debuted with the first team at age 16, and has grown up before our eyes.

But he is also Argentine, and plays for his national team. And if club has had the ultimate success, time and again, country has come up short, time and again. In many ways, a player, even one as completely linked to a club team as Messi, can escape those shackles with a simple phone call to his agent. But the country is forever. The burden is heavier, which is probably why Messi always seems older, more serious when wearing the famous blue and white striped shirt. Yet it’s only today, in the wake of a rather remarkable interview, that we can say Leo Messi is a man.

Not in the chronological sense, or in any other tangible sense. I mean a man in the way that Carles Puyol was, that Xavi was, this terra-stomping fiend that if cut, would bleed blaugrana from one arm, and albiceleste from the other. We could all see it coming via the little things, from sticking up for Neymar in a contretemps to getting in a Roma player’s face. The facade that was all stoicism as he was kicked, on and off the pitch, was eroding like a crust that cracks and lets sunshine explode from its core.

One headline reads, “Lionel Messi blasts Argentina critics in foul-mouthed rant.” Those headlines miss the point.

We don’t want our players to be human. We want them to be human, but not Human, with all of the irritabilities, frailties and flaws that make us all so limited, so … human. We want perfect goals, perfect families, championships and consistent excellence until, like Xavi, they stroll a confetti-festooned path to their next step in life, flanked by trophies and buoyed on love.

Messi has been all of those things, even when he had absolutely no reason to be. As Pepe plowed his Achilles tendon like a farmer preparing soil for crops, he got up, lined up the free kick and played on. He was stoic as Argentina came up short in final after final, let down by the failures of others on the big stage, even as he worked until his shirt was soaked with the tangible signs of his toil.

And finally, it all came out:

“I still hear criticism over the national team. I say ‘Fuck you’ we got to the final and didn’t lose in the quarterfinals.”

There are many more quotes in the interview, which is here, but none that made me say, as did many other culers, “Man I hope those quotes are real.” Why? Because there is a necessary step in the evolution of Messi that we still haven’t seen, which is full humanity, in the way that someone rips open their chest to reveal a beating heart. As Shakespeare wrote in “Merchant of Venice,” “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

Messi hasn’t. All of this stuff happened, the blame, the criticism from Argentina national team supporters, the supposition that unlike Maradona, Messi doesn’t have what it takes to single-handedly drag his teammates to greatness. Messi was pricked, time and again, and yet didn’t bleed. He just put on the shirt and went to work, because that’s what workers do. His teammates supported him publicly, coaches supported him, but Messi was stoic, until now.

“I get annoyed by the people who attack you without thinking.”

If any player suspends the ability to think, to be rational, it’s Messi. He does things with the ball that reduce humans to dolphin noises and grinning. Messi is, by his very nature, irrational. You can think about what he does, yet it doesn’t make sense. Yet his meaning is clear: think about what the team has done, think about the coaching merry-go-round and personnel complexities, think about everything, carping about his not singing the anthem, about the calm way he goes about his business, think before you talk crap. “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

But these aren’t the petulant rants of a player who has finally had enough. Rather, these are the thoughts of a Man, who has two sons and a woman he loves. There are things more important in his world, that has reduced football to the game that it well and truly is. No more matches, PlayStation and Legos. And grown-ass men put away foolish things, which means setting the record straight, striding into the glare of expectation and criticism in a way that makes it clear that he hears it, and doesn’t really care, because he feels how he feels.

“I won’t sing the national anthem on purpose. I don’t need to sing it to feel it. Every person feels it in their own way.”

Messi is one of the captains of FC Barcelona, but Iniesta is the Capita. When Iniesta goes, Messi will be next. It will be a team vote as it so often is, and it will be a landslide. Why? Because he is living up to his name. He has become a lion. Puyol ripped off the armband and roared after he scored a goal. Messi grabbed the crest, perched directly above his heart, and ran to exult with teammates and supporters.

With such actions, and with the interview that was released, Messi became wonderfully, gloriously imperfect. “I’m here, we kick ass, and screw you.”

At 28, Messi is a player that is moving into his next phase, again with echoes of Michael Jordan, who as he aged in the cruel context of a game that wants to discard its titans even before they reach 30, slid back. More jump shots, three-pointers, a rounded game that no longer relied on slashing, driving and dunking. Likewise, Messi is passing, moving and influencing matches in ways that don’t involve directly scoring a goal, even as they often lead to goals. This is often called an athlete’s mature phase, in that way implying the knowledge that we have as grownups. “Why do that, when I can do this?”

He’s more complete as a person, just as he is more complete as a player. Baring his heart is, whether planned or not, part of Messi’s very public maturation process. And even for the neutral observer, it’s pretty cool to watch.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

25 Comments

  1. Jim
    December 14, 2015

    Yup, spot on ! His problem is that he only has a limited amount of time to turn this around if he wants to retire back in Argentina. Me, I think having lived in Barcelona (for maybe twenty years by the time he retires ?) I’d just live there in luxury as the biggest legend the city has known. I mean, what a city to retire in . . .

  2. December 14, 2015

    Finally, am glad he said it. Now looking forwards to the reactions from Argentina.

  3. ChaoticReaper
    December 14, 2015

    He’s been hanging around Suarez too much

  4. dl
    December 14, 2015

    I’m with you, Jim. As nice as Argentina is, it SUCH a complicated place. Better to hang out in Barcelona (what a city!) with occasional trips back to Rosario.

  5. georgjorge
    December 14, 2015

    So – Arsenal AGAIN? And Chelsea – PSG again as well?

    I highly favor our chances against Arsenal in a two-legged tie, but if there’s one player to worry about it’s of course Alexis. He’s already been the main force behind their success before his injury, and we can be very sure he’ll give everything and then some against Barca.

    • dl
      December 14, 2015

      We’ll set Masche on him — settle some scores from the copa. Should be a fun tie, as Arsenal like to actually play. And of course the irony of PSG knocking out Chelsea again (let us pray) would be delicious.

  6. Kd
    December 15, 2015

    I swear!! What a city indeed!! I am loving the fact that Messi let himself loose in the interview. Shades of Pep when he took on Mourinho. Messi is the man!! The alpha of alphas in football. I hope the next time there isnt a Higuain to stop him from winning the World cup. Yes I lay the blame of both the runners up medal on Higuain, however he may be playing now!!
    And what of Arsenal vs Barca!! Again! Why cant we for once get an easy team like those guys in white. Although most probably we will get through but once in a way its nice to get an easy draw. Plus I like Arsenal. My fav team in the PL. Alexis is gonna be so motivated!!

    • December 15, 2015

      For me, it is better this way, that we get tough teams on the way to finals. The more tougher the opponent we beat, the more stronger we will get.

  7. Jim
    December 17, 2015

    Mou gone, apparently acc to Sky. And at Christmas ?

    • Jim
      December 17, 2015

      There’ll be a doc somewhere raising a small glass tonight. All went wrong from there.

      Always a mismatch for me as he came back to a team full of attacking talent and he can’t handle attacking flair players. Requires them to concentrate too much on running/ defending. With the flair players there and the right manager ( and I’m probably including Cesc in this) this team could still be a force in the CL.

    • December 17, 2015

      That seems to have ruined the Xmas for Chelsea’s next opponenets :)-

      Excellent shot by Rakitic, leading to first goal. Wonderful pass by Iniesta, good control and excellent Suarez second goal.
      Very poor dive by Munir for 3rd goal.
      One very good save by Bravo.

    • ooga aga
      December 18, 2015

      Not a dive by Munir. Look again. Could also argue that it wasn’t a foul on the defender. Munirs left foot gets clipped without doubt.

    • dl
      December 17, 2015

      I concur regarding the doctor episode being the one that started it all. If I was a top flight player and saw my manager react that way to an injury, I would understand then and there that he had no concern for me as a person, which fits in quite well, actually, with the rest of his narcissistic behavior. He was such a cartoonish punching bag, though, that I’m sorry to see him go.

  8. Cyclops
    December 18, 2015

    Its all started with the Doc episodes? i quite dont agree with you there…For me its all started with the Tottenham Bashing last season…wanna get a good idea of how things went wrong for chelsea, you’d do well to start from that 4:2 mauling

    whatever the case, apparently Mourinho is being dogged by a sort of deja vu, like an evil albatross.. Its reestablish now that he aint got no 3rd season with any club he coaches…He stays for Two season, all nice and well, once it gets to the third season its all collapses.

    Anyway, its unlikely his coaching acumen is now in doubt, rather i think clubs will now be like ” hey Mou, we’re giving you a Two year contract, just deliver to us the Cup and thats all..dont worry forget about the third season, thank you, dont mention”.

    But really, i’ve never been convinced of Mourinho coaching prowess.. He’s a great Motivator, no doubt- and Motivation( that quality, being the best is in more ways than not a mentality thing) is like half and a quarter of football- as Leicester City are currently prooving in The BPL…Add that to his coarse tactics of just parking the bus, you have footballers turn dervish, who will play that tactics with their blood, so to say. Thats pretty much what a Mourinho offers you..When it comes to the techincal side of football-as Jim alluded to, he’s found wanting. Looking back at last season you can easily notice that, its was when he tried to play expansive football with Chelsea that all was lost..Apparently he tried to go technical, and then they started letting in Deluge of Goals like thats the coolest thing in football

    But how about this for an Irony; Leicester City coached by claudio Ranieri inflicting the defeat on Mourinho that saw him got sacked…? Dear Old Karma *Sighs*

  9. Cyclops
    December 18, 2015

    As for Mess, well its high time..
    Though i like Argentina as a country, but apparently, when it comes to footballing matters-specifically as regarding Messi, they’ve got lotta lowlifes there
    Someone once said-as regards the dominat spanish Team that won the 2010 WC, that the only thing Missing from that Team was a certain Lionel Messi..Couldnt agree more… Though as i said, i quite like Argentina, but in this case, it’d been perfect if El messiah Leo Messi aka LM10 was a spainard,,gosh! thats would have been a Marriage made in Heaven.
    But then, we dont often get perfect things eh? Lil spooly spanners are throen into the works, to make them a bit imperfect

    Just think, if Messi was a spaniard, there wouldnt have been that RM double agent Higuain denying him the pleasure of lifting a WC trophy

    For me thought, i think Messi should just go the Cruyff way; naturalise to a Spaniard or something, and let those argentines lowlifes go jump in the Arctic Ocean(in this season? they’d get a firsthand redefinition of what Freezing Means!) But then its not simple, he’s an Argentine Legend after all…just Imagine a Maradona changing Nationality? ha! try that and the up to the very 10th Messi’s generation would be declare a national non grata to the Argentine people..lol, talk about them hiring snipers to settle Old Scores with Messi in the future, na nah, dosnt sounds good, aint worth the trouble..

    In other news, looking at Suarex’s second goal again at the Club world clup, and man, that was such a divine control by luisito( awesome assit by Iniesta BTW)
    The best central striker currently? step aside Lewandoski, Suarex gets hands down.

    As for Munir, the dude is useful after all..i mean even if its only Conjuring penalties now and then for the team he brings to the table, why should i complain? i’m fine with it…

  10. Cyclops
    December 20, 2015

    SuperSave From Bravo there…
    Guys, any idea how Bravo wasnt part of the Top 5 Goalkeepers? thats just bewildering! Fifa sucks!…

  11. Jim
    December 20, 2015

    So, Pep’s on the move at the end of the season. Not sure how sensible it is to announce this at this point of the season because we saw what happened when SAF did it but on the other hand I slagged him for stringing us along so I’m not sure what the ideal is.

    New home has to be the EPL but where ? Best fit has to be Arsenal but timing maybe isn’t great with Arsene wanting to go on till the end of next season. Man City probably favourites but I’m just not sure they have the aura of the teams Pep would want to manage. Over at Utd., LVG seems to have a death wish with both his style of play and comments about getting the sack and we know Pep loves the image of that club. The last factor might seem silly to some but I’m just not sure life in the north of England would appeal to Pep or his family.

    Anyway, always interesting to see what he’s up to. Does he already know , and if not, is he taking a chance that a big enough club will be interested and have a vacancy ?

    That, sadly, leaves us with Chelsea. Life in London, money no object and a range of creative players plus a team with caretaker manager till the end of the season. Surely not ?

    • Davour
      December 20, 2015

      Yes, Chelsea wouldn’t surprise me; it seems Pep enjoys the good life for himself and his family, and Manchester… Well, better than Liverpool. And good for Bayern; RM were stupid to let Ancelotti go, and BM smart to pick him up.

      Nice win today, another trophy for the collectors. Now just to be wary against letting things go loose, as so often happens. Post-new years will be extra tough this time; hopefully Arda and Vidal can balance this somewhat, and perhaps a fringe addition of a forward on loan.

      On the game, things looked good; I particularly like Piqué’s tendency to dominate the air on set pieces, just like last year. Hopefully to be cont.

    • Jim
      December 20, 2015

      Yeah, wonder if LE will allow Messi and co to come back a day later this year ? 🙂

    • G6O
      December 20, 2015

      We play Betis on the 30th of December.

      So the break is shorter this year than usual.

  12. barca96
    December 20, 2015

    Pique was monumental.

  13. December 20, 2015

    Man when Pique is on form he is by far the best CB in the world. Great win today. Fantastic way to end the year. I just love this team so much, they bring me so much joy.

  14. Cyclops
    December 20, 2015

    yeah, thats true; do you announce he (pep ) is leaving now or waits till the end of the season? its some dillema..But announcing now IMO is just too much of a distraction to club and players.. its a matter of which benefits outweighs which- and that is relative

    Chelsea, lol..Knew they sacked Mou- after all said and done, primarily cause they hope to get Pep…Hehe, goodluck to them( and im saying that with a Clenched Teeth)

    United…LVG is hilarious.. Placing a bet that he’d be the Next Bpl manager to get sack, would probably be the easeist bet of ma life…

    City..oh well, i was kinda repulsed at the idea of pep joining them, as one Bpl fan aptly put it; we’re in trouble..
    But come on now, i couldnt care less, even if he manages to transform, right now our team is on a different and higher pedestal, and at worse they’d always be second best
    Just that City fans give me the Chills…There are just too deluded for ma liking

    Arsenal, seems like the safest place a barca fan would want pep to end in, but apparently they aint no Job vacancy there…
    In all the available Bpl clubs right now, Pep going to City is like a necassary evil- from a barca fan perxpective..I wouldnt want United, and certainly not Chelsea, hell no

    Extended break for Messi and co? ha, dont see the point for that…Get the joke tho’, lol

    And, brilliant win, worth the watch, along with some absurd stats being broken..buh what do we do best again ?

  15. G6O
    December 20, 2015

    In other news, RM go down 1-2 against Rayo, Rayo gets 2 red cards and a penalty for RM and it’s 4-2 now..

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