As we looked at the slate of fixtures a few weeks ago, we saw some match-ups that made every true soccer fan’s eyes well up with tears of joy. First, Messi and the amazing force that is Barcelona travelled to face the league-leading Real Madrid and the only player that seems to function on Messi’s playing level: Christiano Ronaldo. Then, we hoped the soccer gods would deem us worthy to see a match-up between Barcelona and the Brazilian club Santos at the Club World Cup tournament. With Santos having wunderkind Neymar (the heir-apparent to Messi’s throne according to Pele) running the show, the man in the Messi jersey would have the chance to best, not one, but two of the challengers to the World’s best footballer title in the span of a few weeks. The reason why this is even more significant? The list of players that people believe can even challenge Barca’s talisman usually ends after you mention the two players listed above: Neymar and Ronaldo.
First, Messi once again bested Ronaldo in the biggest clash in Spanish football. He constantly threatened the back four of Madrid, saw his best chance at a goal being stopped by the fingertips of Iker Casillas (note: any other keeper, and the ball is in the back of the net…guaranteed), and made the typical runs and passes that we have come to expect from the Catalan maestro. His performance greatly contrasted the disappointment that we saw on the opposite side of the field from Ronaldo. The Portuguese phenom spurned two chances that we would normally see him bury, with the only feasible excuse that fans and commentators alike could find being that he was fading under the shadow of the amazing Lionel. His free-kicks lacked any danger (one straight into Valdes and another straight into the wall), his runs ended in more balls given away than any other outcome, and even his massive performance a week later against Sevilla still didn’t make anyone forget his Clasico letdown.
Then, Messi and co. travelled to the Club World Cup in Asia to claim another piece of silverware for the trophy cabinet. They easily weaved their way to the final, and a tie against Neymar and Brazilian cup champions Santos. Neymar, although only 19, has been shoved into the conversation about the world’s best player by many reputable footballing sources (i.e. Pele). His curling, left-footed beauty in the semi-final only increased the desire to see how Neymar would fair against Europe’s best. Long story short, he fell into the same category that Ronaldo found himself in after facing Messi and his Barcelona superstars: Messi showed him how the World’s best plays. Messi scored a brace and assisted a goal en route to a 4-0 Barca victory, and set a record as the first player to have a goal and an assist in six different competitions in the HISTORY OF FOOTBALL, or at least since my youth soccer shoes last graced the pitch in 1994. Translation- the guy can play, and he plays on a level that no one can touch.
Messi somehow finds himself in the equation with nearly every player that has a good run or becomes a superstar within their club or league. However, every time they have to get stacked up side by side, Messi starts to ooze class and show why he is the world’s best. After years of hearing that he isn’t ready to be in the class with Pele and Maradona, I believe that it isn’t just time to allow him into the conversation, but it’s time to ask if he might be better than these two legends. All I know is he makes football art. Every time he plays, he is one of the few players that makes me hold my breath. If you aren’t watching Messi play, even if it is solely for enjoyment value, then you are wrong…dead wrong.
Written by: Andrew McCole, football correspondent, soccerprose.com
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