Frank Rijkaard was an awesome player, but his most important contribution to football might not have come on the field. Almost exactly 9 years ago, he decided to blood a 17- year- old teenager from across continents to play his first ever official match. Little did either he or the player know what was in store for them.
The player I am talking of is Lionel Andrés Messi of course! Ever since the artist from Argentina made his debut for Barcelona’s first team, there has been no stopping him. He took 7 and a half months to score his first goal, but hundreds of goals later, that looks like distant past.
Messi was all of 13 years when he decided to cross the Atlantic Ocean and join the Barcelona under 14s as one among the many teen aspirants. At a time when the football world was looking for someone to take the game to its highest standards, what this man did is unbelievable. At 18, he won the Under-20 World Cup for Argentina and was the top scorer in that competition. At 25 he had already scored 200 goals for Barca in La Liga, the youngest ever to achieve that feat. Winning four consecutive Ballon d’Ors and three European Golden Shoe awards is a rare feat and Messi is the first to achieve the latter.
Where does Messi stand among the great players? If winning the UEFA Champions Leagues thrice, La Liga six times, Copa Del Reys twice, Supercopas de España five times, UEFA Super Cups twice and Club World Cups twice does make him the best in business, I don’t know what else will. To top it all, he has an Olympic Gold medal to his name as well. Some might talk about the his world cup victory, but as far as I am concerned it is not far considering he believes his best is yet to come and the stage is set for him in Rio to cross the final frontier.
Of course, statistics is not everything. It is for this exact reason that Messi stands out. Being the highest on-the-pitch earner in football does not change this man’s attitude one bit. He is the best team player the game currently has and works as hard, if not harder, than any other player in his team. At 5 ft. 7in he may be short physically but stands taller than all the footballers of his generation for the way he plays his game and conducts himself on and off the field. A true heir to his countryman Diego Maradona’s on field prowess, he is the best ambassador for football in particular and sports in general. The critics and purists love him as much as the fans in the stands. Apart from being a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, he also runs the Leo Messi Foundation, a charity supporting access to education and health care for vulnerable children.
Though he started off with the number 30 jersey when he replaced Deco to play his first match, he rightly wears the number 10 jersey now. I am sure that the number 10 jersey itself must be proud to be associated with this great man from Rosario! May he reign over the football world with strength and wisdom and inspire many more teenagers across the globe and the cosmos (I believe that if there is any sport that citizens in other planets play, it must be football) to play the game well and always play it fair.
Meanwhile, let the rest of us keep wondering how far this man can really go!