By Tom Sheldrick
After his four-goal masterclass took Arsenal to pieces on Tuesday night, Lionel Messi has gone from being arguably the best soccer player in the world right now, to the finest talent of his generation, to perhaps the greatest player of all time.
Sports daily Marca wrote “The world kneels at the feet of Messi” and in a memorable front page headline, “How do we stop this guy?” I don’t know if there is really any debate anymore about Messi being the greatest soccer player of all-time. And there really is no way to stop Messi when he’s got the ball on his left foot.
Barca President Joan Laporta was sure of the quality of his prize asset even before that display. “He is the best player in the world and the best in the history of football” Laporta said after the miniature Argentine’s consecutive La Liga hat-tricks in March.
Maradona, with whom Messi has been so frequently compared, and who will have the pleasure of coaching him in national colours for the upcoming World Cup, finally indulged his protégé this week. “He’s at a divine level, being the best in the world and a star at Barcelona. Lio is playing kick-about with Jesus.”
The Sun here in England was running on similar lines. “The Messiah” was just too hard to resist.
In the editorials, Patrick Barclay of The Times said “Lionel Messi will stand alongside Pele and Maradona in [a] pantheon of greats”.
The Telegraph’s top man, Henry Winter, described his performance as “Unstoppable. Unforgettable. Impudent, inventive and irresistible, Messi looked up to the heavens but, in reality, this was a night when the Gods looked up to him.”
Arsene Wenger, the beaten manager, must have been touched by Messi’s magic, for he came over all gracious in defeat for once. “He is the best player in the world by some distance. He’s [like] a Playstation.”
This prompted the Guardian to dispatch Keith Stuart – tough afternoon of journalism this must have been – to try and replicate the one-man-Messi-show by playing as the Argentine on the console. Turns out the real thing wins every time.
And as for those who have got to take Messi on in coming weeks… It will be Inter Milan in the Champions League semi-finals, the Italian media labeling him “king of football” and “something from outer space.”
The small matter of El Clasico this weekend first. The notoriously partisan Madrid sports papers brought themselves to acknowledge Messi’s achievements. AS said “Messi is scary, not of this world.”
El Mundo Deportivo in Barcelona is more used to praising the Argentine’s achievements, but still found new levels of hyperbole. “It’s not that Barca depend on Messi, it’s that Messi is football.”
El Mundo commentator Fernando Llamas continued: “Last night Lionel Messi went beyond what any human could possibly conceive. He showed art, magic, desire, emotion, fun and ferocity – all the while retaining the taste and mood of football.”
Back in his homeland, the Argentinean press were less impressed, frustrated that he can’t reproduce his Barca form for the blue and white of his country.
La Nacion said: ‘Messi has been accused of not singing the national anthem, of being a Catalan, of not feeling pride at wearing the Argentina shirt and of not showing the same attitude as he does in Barcelona’.
Finally, a certain sympathy for Enrico Preziosi, now the President of Italian club Genoa. “When I was president of Como we had Messi on trial. He was 15 and we rejected him. We had been following him when he was 14 and he was already a phenonmenon at the time. But we didn’t sign him because of certain things that were going on at Como at the time. Sometimes you make certain errors, which is what happens.”
Is Lionel Messi the greatest of all time – the debate goes on…
Tom Sheldrick is a freelance writer and can be reached at: email@example.com