Johnson: Messi adds to his legend after breaking scoring record
Are we witnessing the greatest soccer player of all-time?
There’s a lovely commercial extolling the virtues of Turkish Airlines (check YouTube, over 16 million views) that has L.A. Lakers’ megastar Kobe Bryant and the simply peerless Lionel Messi trying to one-up each other as they vie for the attentions of a wide-eyed moppet who’s recognized them both on a flight.
Kobe spins a basketball on a finger to impress the kid. Messi, returning serve, juggles a soccer ball sitting down.
Kobe fires his ball through criss-crossing legs at lightning speed. Messi juggles his ball between the legs with his feet, blind, eyes upwards while balancing another on his head.
Kobe builds a house of cards. Messi builds a BETTER house of cards (complete with turning windmill at the top).
Kobe makes the kid a balloon dog. Messi makes a more elaborate balloon dog.
In the end, a dish of ice cream offered by a friendly stewardess and two of the world’s most famous sports stars are forgotten.
“Ice cream?” asks Kobe, resignedly.
“Si,” replies Messi, as he lets go of his balloon, the air pfffffffffffffffting! out as it sails away out of the shot.
Sunday, lest anyone get any other ideas, the elfin Argentine with the ’60s retro Beatles cut proved yet again that he is the greatest footballer currently on this planet, arguably ever — if not today, then someday — scoring twice at Real Betis, Nos. 85 and 86, to establish a new goal-scoring mark for a calendar year.
Think of it: 86 goals in a game renowned, and often scorned, for 1-nil.
“It seems impossible,” marvelled Barca coach Tito Vilanova, “what he’s done.”
The short, choppy strides. The effortless acceleration.
Messi now has 23 goals on the 2012-2013 La Liga season, seven more than runner-up Radamel Falcao of Atletico Madrid and 10 ahead of the man continually self-campaigning to loosen Messi’s grip on the Balon d’Or, Real Madrid’s prodigious peacock, Cristiano Ronaldo. More to Messi’s liking, Barca holds a precious six-point lead atop the Spanish table, and a fat 11-point gap on Mourinho’s Real men. The Catalans have accrued 43 of a possible 45 points over the opening 15 games. Astonishing.
“It’s nice to overtake Muller for what it signifies,” Messi told TV station Canal+ after the Betis match. “But the most important thing is the victory, that we could maintain the distance with those other teams.
“That’s the important thing.
“My objective is to continue the level of the team, to get La Liga, La Copa, La Champions. That is my dream.”
We all have dreams, of course. Messi is ours.
The first goal Sunday, in the 16th minute, the one that tied Gerd (Der Bomber) Muller’s goals in a year record, was sublimely typical, Messi driving diagonally past a stream of flummoxed defenders in the box before unleashing a left-footed screamer inside the far post. Nine minutes later, more lethal magic, laying a pass off to string-puller Andres Iniesta, whose lovely little backheel into Messi’s path, the familiar No. 10 wiggling to find just enough room to operate, as always, is buried into that same far corner, with the Betis ‘keeper left clawing dismally at air.
And to think, a bruised left knee suffered versus Benfica in Champions League mid-week had him listed as doubtful for Betis.
Forty years ago, Gerd Muller scored 85 goals for Bayern Munich and West Germany. Messier has conjured up 74 for Barca and 12 for Argentina this year. And he still has two more domestic fixtures before 2012 ends to add to that insane total.
Muller, for those too young to remember, was a penalty-box poacher without peer. A predator who preyed on the slightest scrap, the most minute of mistakes. Messi, conversely, is fire to the German’s flint. A finisher. A provider. A weaver of dreams. That’s what makes this goal-scoring mark so mind-blowing. He so much more than ‘just’ — if that’s the right word — a goal scorer.
Later, Betis president Rafa Gordillo was one of the first to pay homage. “Leo,” he said, “will surpass all the records. He’s the best in the world.”
The voters will judge that again soon. Messi, naturally, has been shortlisted for FIFA’s World Player of the Year, along with Iniesta and Ronaldo, the winner to be revealed at the Ballon d’Or gala Jan. 7th at the Zurich Kongresshaus.
“If they give to Andres, he will be worthy of it for what he shows every game,” repeated Messi on Sunday. “If he wins it, I will be happy.”
Crazy thing is, you believe him.
Lionel Messi IS football. Whether you cheer for Bayern or Benfica, Manchester (either) or Milan (either) or Chelsea, PSG or Juve — even Madrid — there’s no denying the man’s gifts. Enjoy him. He’s only 25, yes, but as much as we might wish, not even he can last forever.
So without being too hard on that wide-eyed moppet on the Turkish Airlines commercial, geez, kid, what in the love of heaven could you have been thinking?!
There’s so much more air left in that balloon.
Don’t you know, aren’t you aware, that for millions upon millions of people that inhabit every nook and cranny of this planet, those who cherish the beauty in The Beautiful Game, watching Leo Messi serpentine his way through a chorus line of mere mortals pledged to stop him one-ups everyone, everything?
Better than Kobe, than CR7 or Iniesta or Xavi. Better than anything.
Better, even, than a dish of ice cream.
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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