Inside the Mind of Lionel Messi
After the Copa America Cup Final, a penalty kick victory for Chile over fierce South American rivals Argentina, Lionel Messi announced his retirement from International football. This left football fans throughout the world despondent over being deprived of seeing the world’s greatest footballer wearing the blue and white of his country. The decision was later rescinded leading to jubilant celebrations, however no diversion could conceal the apocalyptic psychological collapse of Lionel Messi and Argentina in the Copa America Centenario Final.
My personal opinion is that Lionel Messi is the greatest player in the history of football. I am not of the persuasion that you have to win a trophy with your country to hold this accolade. What Messi does on the pitch with continuous excellence is beyond any genius I have ever witnessed. The moment which he sealed this acclaim in my mind was during the 2009 Champions League Final versus Manchester United when he finished the game with a perfect header nestled into the far corner. ‘The diminutive magician can do everything,’ I thought to myself.
Messi encompasses a combination of attributes complimenting all elite athletes such as technical excellence and impeccable physical strength. However, the attribute which elevates him above any other player in the apical minority of football greatness is his psychological vigor and courage. Like his great compatriot Diego Maradona, Messi is the victim to many savage attempts to discourage him asserting his inventiveness on the pitch. Nonetheless, he scorns these endeavours and continues the overwhelming domination of his competitors. I don’t claim to have watched every minute of Lionel Messi’s career, however from the abundance which I have witnessed, his ability to overlook maliciousness is an unbelievable trait and every time I watch this expression of mental vitality it amazes me. It’s a symbol of greatness to be constantly knocked down, let your perseverance prevail and continue your march to excellence. Winston Churchill once said, ‘if you are going through hell, keep going’ - a statement which I feel Messi embodies in many matches.
I sat down to watch the 2016 Copa America Centenario with the confidence that La Pulga Atomica (the atomic flea) would finally put his demons to rest and win a trophy with his beloved Argentina. The first 25 minutes were a magical expression of the beautiful game from Messi. He was quick, decisive and had an assertive control on the game. Notwithstanding the Chilean game plan to sabotage his influence, if Messi could keep his cleverness and robust mentality I was convinced he would lead his team to victory. Unfortunately, a mental lapse came at most inopportune juncture in the virtuoso’s career. With the momentum of five goals and four assists in the previous four games, Messi caved to the loathsome tough-tackling of the Chileans and only sporadically exemplified his brilliance in a controversial match. His play became less fluid and more apprehensive; his ability to dismiss attempted brutality turned to reacting theatrically to it; and worst of all, his anxiety at the thought of losing could be witnessed on his usually stoic face. It wasn’t just the Chile team who contributed to an unsatisfying conclusion to an otherwise exciting tournament, the Argentina team also became indulged in a battle of cynicism. As the captain, I felt Messi should have been more audacious in his attempt to control the match. During a Cup Final tensions run high, therefore maintaining your cool is an incredulous asset; in the Copa America Cup Final, Lionel Messi bought into the bravado of the opposition and sadly, of his own allies. He attempted tactics very uncharacteristic of his footballing personality. He dove, coaxed the referee into sending a man off, imitated giving a card to ensure his opponent was booked and most importantly he oftentimes lost his mental discipline, a trademark which has made him a cherished treasure of Global football fans. The apex of a culmination of incidents was a wildly missed penalty by the greatest footballer on the planet. Subsequent to the winning penalty by Chile, the camera became fixated on a broken footballer. The opportunity to cement greatness had been squandered and the elation of a country had turned to sorrow. I have never in my life seen a player so mentally distraught at the conclusion of a football match to the point that the pain emanated throughout my own bones - and I have no affiliation to Argentina.
I believe that Messi was not internally tormented because he missed a penalty or Argentina had lost, it was because the great one had lost himself in the frenetic emotion exhibited during the course of the final at Metlife Stadium.
Football has the incredible ability to teach lessons of greatness but what is disconcertingly overlooked is the teachings of failure; for this is a major ‘asset’ which sculpts excellence. The best basketball player to ever grace the hardwood once said:
The introspective I would like to understand regarding the above is why he failed. After all, the lessons in defeat he experienced combined with the physical, tactical and psychological development he intertwined within his regime of daily improvement is what made Jordan a master on the hardwood.
As a footballer, it is imperative that you try to be disciplined in maintaining an honest mentality and let your play dictate the level of achievement you attain. You are blessed to be playing this beautiful game so remember to play it accordingly and to the best of your ability. Ensure that you don’t follow the crowd, opposition or even your own team into actions extrinsic of yourself; be proud and leave the pitch with a clear mind and a feeling of satisfaction, win or lose. Finally, always remember that the greatest in the history of mankind have failed, yet it is the evolution from defeat that emanates from their persona. Lionel Messi failed in the Copa America Final and it is him who will use that disappointment to drive himself to more incredulous accomplishments in the future.