Lionel Messi is only 23 and about to explode on to the world stage as one of the best soccer players ever to play the game. Here is how the New York Times sees it.
He is 23, with a grown-upâ€™s income reported to exceed $43 million this year. Yet Messi still has a boyâ€™s floppy bangs, a boyâ€™s slight build and a boyâ€™s nickname, the Flea. Even the ball stays on his feet like a shy child clinging to his fatherâ€™s legs.
It is a boyâ€™s fearlessness, enthusiasm, calm and humility, too, that help explain why Messi is already considered one of the greatest ever to play the worldâ€™s game. In the space of 18 tense days from April to early May, Barcelona played four ClÃ¡sicos against its archrival, Real Madrid. The Madrid strategy was to strangle beauty out of the matches, to use nasty muscle against Messi, to shoulder him down or shiver him with a forearm or take his legs in scything tackles. Once, he was sent rolling as if he had caught fire.
Messi made small appeals for fairness with his eyes and hands, but he remained unflappable and without complaint. He did not yell at the referee or clamp a threatening hand around an opponentâ€™s neck or fake a foul and dive to the ground. He remained apart from ugly words and scuffles and expulsions that marred the matches. Instead, he trumped cynicism with genius.
The description of his play reminds me a lot of how Wayne Gretzky was described early in his career. Too small for the rough stuff but impossible to contain and yes he brought genius to the ice.