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Lionel Messi is impossible.
July 1, 2014 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Lionel Messi is impossible. Benjamin Morris of 538 uses statistics to prove that Lionel Messi is the best footballer on Earth.
posted by OmieWise (77 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Messi is better at football than anyone else is at anything", is the line.

Might even be true.
posted by mhoye at 5:51 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Written before Messi was essentially double man marked for like 120 minutes and still managed to produce the game winning assist.
posted by JPD at 5:52 PM on July 1 [8 favorites]


Putting inappropriate linear trendlines on some of those graphs is generally irrelevant to the point they're trying to make about Messi and Ronaldo as outliers, but it looks kind of laughable. It's a very interesting read, though.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:55 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Nice article, cheers. One of the things I've always found amazing about Messi is that absolutely everything he does is necessary - there's no tricks for tricks sake, no pointless rabonas or endless stepovers, no attempts at absurd finishes when the game is already won. There's very little showy stuff at all, just an astonishingly effective simplicity. In a way he's almost the anti-Ronaldinho.

The discipline he has to focus everything on being as effective for the situation and for the team as possible, when you're easily skilful enough to just coast around doing tricks forever that no-one else could even contemplate, is pretty remarkable in itself.
posted by dng at 5:59 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]


I'm amused by the multiple "his peers (meaning Ronaldo)".
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:06 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


His passing profile is nothing like the other Barcelona forwards, who typically send 72 percent of their passes back or square. Messi is far more likely to try to advance the ball toward the goal, and far more likely to succeed.

Messi makes more passes than the other forwards, with a higher percentage of those passes trying to advance the ball toward the goal, and a higher percentage of those passes finding their targets (typical Messi!). His 3,800-plus completed forward passes are nearly twice as many as any forward in our data set (Francesco Totti for FC Roma has 2,200, followed by Wayne Rooney, the English striker, with 1,800 and Ronaldo with 1,500).


I think this analysis of Messi's passing is a bit off though. I would have thought Messi makes more forward passes than the other Barcelona forwards - and also other strikers in general - because he's much more likely to drop deep to get the ball.
posted by dng at 6:07 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Even more impossible when you know he was destined to be a dwarf before FC Barcelona came to the rescue...
posted by jim in austin at 6:09 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


"Messi is better at football than anyone else is at anything", is the line.

I wonder if there'd be any rigorous way to compare "outstandingness" across different sports? I've always thought the greatest outlier in any sport that I'm aware of was Bradman in cricket. But to be truly outstanding in a genuinely global sport like soccer is probably a great deal more difficult.
posted by yoink at 6:26 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


So, he's like the Gretzky of football?
posted by clvrmnky at 6:28 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Or like the Manning of football?
posted by dabug at 6:30 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Putting lines that show where the average success rate would fall when guys like Messi and Ronaldo have many many more attempts than the rest of the pack is appropriate.
posted by crashlanding at 6:34 PM on July 1


....and he never dives.
posted by hangingbyathread at 6:52 PM on July 1 [15 favorites]


Nice article, cheers. One of the things I've always found amazing about Messi is that absolutely everything he does is necessary - there's no tricks for tricks sake, no pointless rabonas or endless stepovers, no attempts at absurd finishes when the game is already won. There's very little showy stuff at all, just an astonishingly effective simplicity. In a way he's almost the anti-Ronaldinho.

Eh, i am but a lowly causal bandwagoner, but when it comes to soccer, count me an Allen Iverson fan. That is to say, it's a lot more fun to me to watch Ronaldinho make fools break their ankles and the ball do impossible things than to watch Messi simply play the game as efficiently as possible. I believe you when you say there's never been anybody better, but there's definitely been some who were a lot more fun.
posted by Diablevert at 6:53 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Wiki page says that Bradman was a standard deviation better at cricket than Pele was at soccer, and it's not inarguable that Messi is better than Pele: indeed, I think there would be a fair consensus that this is not the case.
posted by curuinor at 6:54 PM on July 1


He's the Jerry Rice of Football.
posted by Cyrano at 6:57 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


I really tried for real - and I thought I was rewarded today, when the Americans pulled a slick trick in extra time, a practiced play unexpected and awesome, and the American goalie, who had his name mispronounced every. single. time. by the Irish color-man on the ESPN radio broadcast (how do you fuck up Time Award?), had 238 consecutive saves, which is the most in any World Cup since 1038 when Snorri Ronaldinhosson held the Burgundians scoreless. The final tally was still 2-1 because the Yanks fucked up a free-kick.

OK, as boring as baseball is purported to be, you have one guy hucking it as hard as he can against another guy swinging a club as hard as he can with a ball the size of an orange. The immediate premise is glory or bust. The immediate premise of the World Cup seems to be bip the ball back and forth until someone hurts themselves somehow bipping a ball back and forth, and pretend overdramatically if no-one was actually hurt, and maybe some biting.

Hellfire, hockey is basically soccer on ice, and even they manage to sink it in the net more often, despite the net being the size and shape of a studio apartment bathtub, guarded by a goalie with two Honda Accords worth of deflective equipment, most of it airbrushed with fearsome designs.

I don't get professional soccer, and despite cheering like mad for the home team, I despair I never will.

See you in two for the sadness that will be our Women's team exit in the later rounds.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:12 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


He's the Lion-O of boring strikers named Lionel.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:35 PM on July 1


Incredibly impressive, maybe amazing even. But impossible?
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:38 PM on July 1


See you in two for the sadness that will be our Women's team exit in the later rounds.

Next year -- and the USWNT's worst finish ever is 3rd.

And, yeah, I can't think of anybody anywhere who dominated a sport like Don Bradman dominated Cricket. A notable feat in cricket batting is a "century" -- to score 100 runs. In terms of difficultly, call it about the same as a two home-run game in baseball. Bradman played in 52 international Test, the highest level of the sport.

His batting average? 99.94 runs/game. His *average* was for all intents a century. Obviously, he didn't hit one every test, but there were a lot of times where he hit two, and two times, he hit three. The next three highest test averages are barely over 60.

To match him in baseball, you'd have to have a career batting average of .392. In Basketball, you'd need to average 43 points a game. In soccer, you'd have to average over 4 goal a game.
posted by eriko at 7:39 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]


Comparing batting statistics (baseball/cricket) to team sport statistics is apples and oranges.
posted by crashlanding at 7:42 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


What I love from what I've seen watching him play, is how unflappable he is. Defenders blatantly grabbing or pushing and he just plays thru them and brings the best game he can. He doesn't dive, he doesn't pout or shout at the ref. He just plays damn good ball.
posted by MrBobaFett at 7:48 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


To match him in baseball, you'd have to have a career batting average of .392.

Ted Willams was .344, with four years of his prime piloting fighters in the Pacific, before there were such things as designated hitters. He's reeeeal close. His book, one of the best written on the theory and practice of any sport, may bring him about even.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:49 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Usain Bolt is the Lionel Messi of sprinting.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:49 PM on July 1


As linked in the article : Gretzky was crazy dominant. He has 2857 career points, nearly 1000 more than the next guy on the all time list (Messier), and he did it in 269 fewer games.
posted by emeiji at 8:12 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Comparing batting statistics (baseball/cricket) to team sport statistics is apples and oranges.

When you line up Everyone Who Has Ever Appled, and show Person Who Appled X Percent Better Than Everyone Else, it's not unreasonable to point out that it's the equivalent of Oranging X Percent Better Than Everyone Else.
posted by Etrigan at 8:16 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


Wow, this is great. I knew Messi was exceptional, at times otherworldly, but I had no idea he was a complete alien to the core. Now I know what the Messier catalog *really* means...
posted by the painkiller at 8:36 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


it's a lot more fun to me to watch Ronaldinho make fools break their ankles and the ball do impossible things yt than to watch Messi simply play the game as efficiently as possible.

Breaking ankles, you say?
posted by asterix at 9:12 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


Oh yeah, and for anyone who thinks Messi's only about dribbling and scoring, you should watch him and Alves warm up sometime.
posted by asterix at 9:14 PM on July 1 [3 favorites]


As linked in the article : Gretzky was crazy dominant. He has 2857 career points, nearly 1000 more than the next guy on the all time list (Messier), and he did it in 269 fewer games.

Take away his goals and he still has 76 more career points than Messier.
posted by CaseyB at 9:45 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


Ted Willams was .344, with four years of his prime piloting fighters in the Pacific

Interestingly, Bradman's career was also interrupted by WWII.
posted by yoink at 9:47 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


I subscribe to a theory that Messi is three different kinds of footballer wrapped into one, and this article sort of reinforces that thinking - a great dribbling forward like Ronaldo of Brazil AND a great creative no 10 like Totti AND a great close range goal-scorer like Gerd Muller. He is freakishly good.
posted by all the versus at 9:48 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Interestingly, Bradman's career was also interrupted by WWII.

This adds to why Bradman's record is so staggering - he scored 29 centuries in just *52 tests* over a 20-year career.
posted by all the versus at 9:51 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


all the versus: that's certainly what Michael Cox (of Zonal Marking fame) thinks.
posted by asterix at 9:53 PM on July 1


Etrigan, not when all of the stats for team sports are reliant upon, I dunno, your teammates' skill as well as your own. Batting is a one on one skill. Having good teammates may get you more at bats or RBIs but isn't average or HRs the defining feature when discussing the greatest hitters of all time? With regards to soccer you could compare it to free kick skill but plop Messi on a team of 8th graders and he will not find much success. Plop a skilled batter on any team and they will have similar success.
posted by crashlanding at 9:55 PM on July 1


Unlike individual sports such as bicycling, weight-lifting, and track and field, the use of performance enhancing drugs in football (soccer) is not widely associated with the sport because of lack of testing.
posted by bukvich at 9:56 PM on July 1


Having good teammates may get you more at bats or RBIs but isn't average or HRs the defining feature when discussing the greatest hitters of all time?

And those stats can be affected by where you are in the lineup, who's hitting before or after you, and the ballpark you play in.
posted by LionIndex at 10:35 PM on July 1


it's a lot more fun to me to watch Ronaldinho make fools break their ankles and the ball do impossible things

No one will ever be as much fun to watch as George Best.
posted by fshgrl at 10:51 PM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Messi always strikes me as being like Gretzky or Jordan or any of a number of other players who, when they get the ball/puck change everything: from the moment they have possession anything is possible with the main objective being to put it in the net.

And I just want to note that he's clearly, statistically a better player than Cristiano Ronaldo. So let's put mr. Fancy Haircut back on the shelf with the other players who are very very good but not the greatest of their generation.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:13 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


I'm amused by the multiple "his peers (meaning Ronaldo)".

I'd argue for Suarez as well, and not just 'coz I'm a Liverpool fan. I'd even say he's a modern-day Uruguayan Maradona, faults and all. He's ludicrous.

I think Messi's main asset is his balance. It's near perfect. He can send players the wrong way with a twitch of the shoulder or a flicker of his knee. It could be an anticipatory anxiety on behalf of the hapless defender, but then, Messi's aura didn't come from nowhere. It's his.

Also stats don't belong in footie, ta
posted by bumcivilian at 12:58 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


George Best's highlight reel should start on the pitch, middle in the pub, and finish in a hotel room to be truly reflective of the man
posted by C.A.S. at 2:16 AM on July 2


Cruyff is still better: couldn't just play the same sort of world class football that Messi's playing, but actually invented and implemented the style of football at Barcelona that allows Messi to play that way.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:30 AM on July 2


And I just want to note that he's clearly, statistically a better player than Cristiano Ronaldo. So let's put mr. Fancy Haircut back on the shelf with the other players who are very very good but not the greatest of their generation.

The football fanatics I know don't really like Messi. Technically he's good. Ok, he's really good. But he lacks flair or style which is how a football star becomes beloved rather than just respected. Heck, Messi is not really well liked in his own country.

The stats are nice but, unlike baseball announcers in the US, football announcers in most countries never mention stats. Most Latin American fans admire beautiful plays, elegant passes, noble defending. It's not hard to notice football isn't purely about goals. The recent Mexico-Brazil game was thrilling to watch and not a single goal was scored.
posted by vacapinta at 3:26 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Eh, i am but a lowly causal bandwagoner, but when it comes to soccer, count me an Allen Iverson fan. That is to say, it's a lot more fun to me to watch Ronaldinho make fools break their ankles and the ball do impossible things yt than to watch Messi simply play the game as efficiently as possible. I believe you when you say there's never been anybody better, but there's definitely been some who were a lot more fun.

Sorry, my anti-Ronaldinho remark wasn't meant as a disparagement of Ronaldinho, who's one of the best and most joyful players I've ever seen play the game. It's just he was one of the few players who are equally as skillful as Messi, but used those talents in a completely different way. (I wrote my previous comment at two in the morning and probably should have been clearer).

I don't know who Allen Iverson is.
posted by dng at 4:40 AM on July 2


Oh, so the football fanatics don't really like Messi? I'm sorry, these can't be actual football fanatics so much as overexcited people in replica jerseys and face paint.

Messi's relationship with his home is complicated, and nothing to do with his football. Here's a really good article by Wright Thompson that explored that issue in ESPN Here and Gone, EPSN

Lacks flair? Wha? Do these people even play football? Anyone I know who's played football knows just how unique his set of talents is, its once in a generation stuff.

I appreciate Latin American football has a different energy and flow, but that is some romantic guff. The best Latin American football in this tournament has been teams running systems, like Chile and Costa Rica, not the usual laconic hold/horizontal pass/hold/burst of flair run.

And come on, Brazil is mostly 10 guys hanging around waiting for Neymar to do something, and not much to admire style-wise. I so wish Mexico beat them.
posted by C.A.S. at 4:44 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Just for clarity's sake, there's Ronaldo and there's Ronaldinho. There's also another Ronaldo.

All three are very good footballers.

The player being compared to Messi is the first one, Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo.
posted by chavenet at 4:50 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


> I believe you when you say there's never been anybody better, but there's definitely been some who were a lot more fun.

Wow, I don't understand this attitude at all; it's like saying you'd rather watch Jerry Lewis act than Alec Guinness because he's more fun. Watching Messi play football is absolutely riveting; you know any time he's near the ball there's a good chance of something amazing happening. He doesn't have to do stupid pet tricks to be fun to watch.
posted by languagehat at 6:20 AM on July 2 [7 favorites]


Listen if Argentina doesn't want him I'm sure SCOTUS could reconsider hearing the parri passu case if there were a little passport matchup and nice check for Sepp.

The idea that Messi is an unattractive player to watch because he lacks flair is insane.
posted by JPD at 7:07 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


2006 Barcelona with Ronaldinho and Deco had a lot of flair, but the football of Pep's team with Xavi, Iniesta and Messi was considerably better.

I'd argue for Suarez as well, and not just 'coz I'm a Liverpool fan.

He's in top form and a great player (though not sportsman), but consider he's had two great seasons in England and another two for Ajax (against not-so-tight Dutch defenses) with 30+31 and 28+49 goals respectively. Messi has scored minimum 38 goals for the past six seasons. and in his last season that was widely considered disappointing, he still scored more than Suarez.

the American goalie, who had his name mispronounced every. single. time. by the Irish color-man on the ESPN radio broadcast


I'm sure Tim Howard has his name mispronounced way less often than, say, Papastathopoulos or even Cazorla, whose name seems to baffle English commentators.
posted by ersatz at 7:10 AM on July 2


This adds to why Bradman's record is so staggering - he scored 29 centuries in just *52 tests* over a 20-year career.

To stress it more.

In test cricket, there can be up to five days of play. During a day, there are two breaks, one for lunch and one for tea. Three guesses who invented the sport. :-)

Thus, you'll hear talk of intervals -- the morning interval, the lunch interval, and the tea interval. Each is 2-3 hours of play, roughly. Cricket is different than baseball in that you can put a ball in play and then do nothing and be safe. So, often, *esp.* in five day test matches, the right answer to a well bowled ball is to just brush it away on the ground so you won't be given out. It's a very defensive mindset because of the time -- you don't play a risky shot, because outs are far more critical. Scoring 35 runs in a interval is a pretty good rate.

Bradman made centuries in a single interval six times. The second best? Two.

I have also badly screwed up some math. I said that you have to score over 4 goals a match in soccer to match the deviation from the mean of Bradman's test cricket average. If you did that, you'd be about three sigma *above* Bradman. Mea Maxima Culpa.

You would need to average 1.8 goals in International play, or 2.1 goals in top level league play, to match Bradman. The 43ppg in baseball or .392 in basketball is correct. I don't have the data for Hockey, but I'd guess it is on the same order, though it would be very interesting to track points rather than just goals.

It's harder to score in International matches, because you don't play with that group of player very often or very long, and nowhere near the time you spend with your club. This makes team play harder. This is also why, if you want to see the best in soccer, watch the UFEA Champion's League. Between the money it makes for the clubs -- a CL run to the knockouts is easily worth $30-50M to a club -- and the fact that it's the best clubs from some of the best leagues in the world -- generally means that there's a lot of very good play. You don't reach that level in the World Cup because the team's don't have the time to really meld together.
posted by eriko at 7:16 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


How do you say Tim Howard correctly then? Or wrongly, in case I've been saying it correctly.
posted by dng at 7:17 AM on July 2


Bradman was a singular cricket player, but back when he was playing the talent pool he was competing against was quite a bit more restricted than the pool a top flight football/soccer player goes up against.
posted by JPD at 7:31 AM on July 2


It's pronounced o shack hennessey. Don't be churlish.

The Irish announcer was dropping the H in Howard.
posted by cmfletcher at 7:34 AM on July 2


Ted Willams was .344, with four years of his prime piloting fighters in the Pacific, before there were such things as designated hitters.

Ted Williams is an interesting argument. There's no doubt that he was the best pure hitter, and the best student of the craft of hitting, that's ever played.

He also lost most of the 1952-1953 seasons to Korea, where he flew 39 missions with the USMC.

We have more modern statistics now, and they help with the store. On base percentage averaged about .340 in the modern era, and Williams had a .482, the absolute record. But there are many close -- Babe Ruth had a .474, John McGraw had a .467. He didn't have Ruth's power, so while he led in OBP, Ruth led in Slugging (Williams was third all time) and is just behind Ruth with an OPS of 1.115 (Ruth had a 1.163) A top hitter has an OPS over .9, the single season record is 1.42.

Those lost seasons probably cost Ted Williams the all-time home run record. But, with the seasons we have, he's in some ways better than better than Ruth, some ways worse, but in no case dramatically so. So, I really can't call him an outlier, not as much as Bradman was.

The sad thing, though, is two of his best seasons were the 1941 and 1942 seasons. He had his highest and fourth highest BAs, OBP and Slugging. When he came back, he was still very good, but he never matched that 1941 season. You can't help but wonder how good he would shave been if he'd been able to play. On the other hand, you'd almost have to through out those stats. Even in 1942 you saw play getting significantly worse as more and more players joined the service, so if he had played in 1943-45, he would have been playing against significantly worse opposition. Remember, this was the era that the St. Louis Browns managed to win a pennant. So, while I'm sure he would have excelled, you'd really want to exclude those years anyway.
posted by eriko at 7:38 AM on July 2



I don't know who Allen Iverson is.


American basketball player, pretty much the guy for whom the term ankle breaker was invented --- like Ronaldhino, he tends to score by dazzling and confusing the defender into becoming off balance.

Wow, I don't understand this attitude at all; it's like saying you'd rather watch Jerry Lewis act than Alec Guinness because he's more fun...He doesn't have to do stupid pet tricks to be fun to watch.

I can respect and enjoy brutal efficiency. But one thing I very much enjoy when watching a sport is wit and cleverness, watching someone not simply beat but outsmart their opponent --- correctly anticipate what the opponent's move will be and turn it against them, counter it. That's why I like tennis, for example. Great shots in tennis very often have this quality. The flash of an Iverson or a Ronaldhino has that element to it as well --- it's not just beating your opponent to the ball but making them jump wrong, overcommit themselves. There's some ridiculously flashy goals in that Ronaldihno clip I linked to --- but in most of them the flash is related to that very quality, where by say dropping into a bicycle kick he creates a clear lane to the goal which is otherwise well-defended.
posted by Diablevert at 7:40 AM on July 2


The international football community welcomes Americans (and American media) into their midst, but they need to promise one thing: stop with the fucking statistics. This is not baseball. Nobody cares he "curled it in from 29 yards". In-play goal percentage vs. shots per game? What the fuck is this?
posted by gertzedek at 7:59 AM on July 2 [8 favorites]


There's only one Bradman. I don't like him at all.

The man was a cold little bastard, an accumulator, a ferocious snob, and, post-cricket, a stockbroker who walked the line pretty hard. He was an arse to his family. His eldest son changed his name to get away from it all.

But he would fuck anyone up at cricket. In any era. By some enormous distance.

You could, in brief, mostly just give the fuck up if he got going, because he was supernaturally relentless.

Messi, on the other hand, is merely superhuman.
posted by Wolof at 8:03 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Nice. Crazy stats.

Although he hasn't included Xavi or Iniesta in the passing stats, both of whom would presumably stack up well in terms of total pass and forward pass completion rates. Whatever, I don't really care but in this case I wonder if he's omitted data to make Messi look a bit better by comparison. Rest of it sounds legit.

Don't think it'll be enough for the elusive World Cup though.



Oh...just realised he was talking about other strikers only. Carry on.
posted by halincandenza at 8:11 AM on July 2


stop with the fucking statistics.

You can't invite us to the table and make us sit here quietly. We fuckin' love stats! WHIP, QB rating, offensive rebound percentage, Corsi, the list goes on and on. Every nation has aspects of the sport they relish and admire more than others. We relish taking a kids game and grinding into submission through spreadsheets and Malcom Gladwell articles.
posted by cmfletcher at 8:12 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


thinkin'? That ain't for manly men who love sports. That's for nerds.

Neeerrrrdddsss
posted by JPD at 8:25 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


You can't invite us to the table and make us sit here quietly

If you want to sit with the grown ups, you'll have to start acting like one young man.
posted by Ned G at 8:26 AM on July 2


We'll try to behave, but don't hold your hopes up too high.

Over here we televise the draft combines for the NFL, NBA, and NHL. For those of you unfamiliar with the combine, this is an event held by the professional sports leagues just before players are drafted. It's a TV special devoted to prospective players doing pull ups, bench presses, measuring VO2 max, taking aptitude tests all to rank players on their potential ability to play the game. It's pretty much a bunch of 18 year olds playing competitive phys. ed. class and sponsored by shoe companies.

You'll know soccer has taken off in the US when you start hearing people in the bar arguing over Messi's offsides per 90 minutes played* numbers.

*patent pending
posted by cmfletcher at 8:55 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


I'm listening...
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:59 AM on July 2


I don't know where the idea is coming from that Messi is merely efficient; there's a reason words like magic or wizardry are used in describing his play.
posted by JenMarie at 9:00 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


As much as data makes me giddy like a kid in the candy store, I love watching Messi for, yes, his efficiency---does it make it better if I call it elegance? Because that is what it is.

He doesn't dive, he doesn't do drama, and his style is essentially distilling the game to its (pun unintentional) goal and doing whatever's necessary in the moment for it. What makes him exceptional is that he's so good at so many aspects of it, which is what the article focuses on. He's good at assisting and avoiding defenders and attacking by himself and close shots and far shots and and and...

It's all utter quiet competence and great concentration overlaying prodigious talent, and it would be beautiful to watch translated to any other game or skill. That makes him an international treasure as far as I'm concerned.
posted by seyirci at 9:09 AM on July 2 [3 favorites]


> The international football community welcomes Americans (and American media) into their midst, but they need to promise one thing: stop with the fucking statistics. This is not baseball.

Yawn. Baseball people used to say the same thing. Then it turned out using statistics made teams better and they mostly shut up, except for the superannuated types who tie an onion to their belt and mutter about kids and their lawn. You can pretend the numbers don't exist and all that counts is grace and beauty, but the numbers don't lie.

Re Messi: what seyirci said.
posted by languagehat at 9:33 AM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Since Bradman has come up, here's Paul Kelly.
posted by maurice at 9:35 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]


watching someone not simply beat but outsmart their opponent --- correctly anticipate what the opponent's move will be and turn it against them

/This is a subtle subject, so maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but...

Messi joins the greats of all time exactly because of this ability. The maneuver may not be as easily seen by the fan, but he is moving and making decisions so fast that he is dueling the defenders' subconscious. His balance and timing is such that he is setting up changes of direction and pace and dribbling and shooting through spaces that he is creating by understanding his opponents before they can decide what to do. He is a puppeteer.

You really don't get a sense of this until you see some of his more amazing moves/runs up close and in slow motion, but it is INCREDIBLE.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 10:23 AM on July 2 [6 favorites]


Messi joins the greats of all time exactly because of this ability. The maneuver may not be as easily seen by the fan, but he is moving and making decisions so fast that he is dueling the defenders' subconscious. His balance and timing is such that he is setting up changes of direction and pace and dribbling and shooting through spaces that he is creating by understanding his opponents before they can decide what to do. He is a puppeteer.

I once watched a game where Messi has the ball, is driving towards the box, and is getting closed down by two defenders. There's certainly no way to dribble through them, the gap is going to be too small. So Messi pings the ball ahead of the advancing defender on his left, shifts right, jumps into the defender on his right at full speed, and uses that guy's body, trajectory, and his own lesser mass to bounce off the man and redirect himself into space behind the defense, right behind the ball he played to himself and now 1 on 1 with the keeper.

I don't remember if he scored then or not, and I don't really care. He is a ridiculous human being.
posted by Errant at 10:34 AM on July 2 [5 favorites]


there was a messi post here a few years ago that consisted of him running through would be tacklers. Made a ballerina look lumbering.
posted by JPD at 11:48 AM on July 2


Made a ballerina look lumbering.

Although you have to wonder why the opposing team fielded that ballerina in the first place.
posted by yoink at 11:52 AM on July 2


Claudio Gentile: "Football is not for ballerinas."
posted by dng at 11:58 AM on July 2


I barely watch soccer and a few years ago I saw Messi in a game and to my untrained eye it really looked like he had the ball glued to his foot. It was amazing and I have been slowly getting into soccer because of it.

Also, James Rodriguez is fun this year, not just because it's fun to say his name.

So, for this American who knows nothing of soccer, Messi's talents have created a fan.
posted by M Edward at 12:06 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


We also have tv shows (fictional and non) for Fantasy Football, which is where millions of adults use stats from our favorite sport to gamble on a role playing game.
posted by cashlock at 1:27 PM on July 2


We used to have a Fantasy Football tv show in Britain too. Here's an episode of it starring Sean Bean for some reason.

It is even more ramshackle and rubbish than I remembered.
posted by dng at 1:57 PM on July 2


Just for clarity's sake, there's Ronaldo and there's Ronaldinho. There's also another Ronaldo.
The player being compared to Messi is the first one, Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo..
That's because fat Ronaldo is better than both of them.

There are people who are technically better at playing guitar than Hendrix.
There are people who are technically better at driving than Senna.
Messi is technically better than almost all other footballers.

But it's not science, it's art.
posted by fullerine at 3:09 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


Actual Ronaldo.
posted by dng at 3:13 PM on July 2


What I love from what I've seen watching him play, is how unflappable he is.

He's the humpty dumpty of football
posted by AceRock at 5:10 PM on July 2 [1 favorite]


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