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The Life and Times of the Dog-Man
July 11, 2014 9:13 AM   Subscribe

"Casually, I click in a compilation of clips I've never seen before. I think it's another video like other thousands of thousands, but I soon realize it's not. The clips are not Messi goals, his best runs, nor his assists. It's a strange compilation: the video shows hundreds of clips, two or three seconds long each, in which Messi receives strong fouls and doesn't fall to the ground." Messi es un perro is a short essay by Argentine writer Hernán Casciari on Lionel Messi. You can read an English translation on Reddit, Messi Is a Dog. Perhaps the best way to enjoy it is to listen to the original as read by Norberto Jansenson with English subtitles. [via this Deadspin article about Messi by Billy Haisley which you should also read]
posted by Kattullus (23 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Tú, el gordito, estás salvado."

Wonderful.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:28 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


What a beautiful essay! I am a no-nothing about sports which is why I adore when sports writing is so good and helps me understand when athletics become art. Like DFW on Federer, or Joyce Carol Oates on Tyson.
posted by Aubergine at 9:29 AM on July 11


The essay is lovely to read, and it's a good summary of how Messi is regarded in Spain and in the soccer world. The regard itself is rather silly, though.

It's not that Messi never dives; it's that he dives far less than you would expect an elite striker to dive. Rather than attribute this to his canine spirit or some sort of trance, I'd argue that he's just really, really good — so good that he'd rather continue the play than try to win a penalty or a free kick.

Michael Jordan's legacy isn't that he was a mythical being; he was just a dude who was really, really good at basketball. Same with Gretzky. Same with Pele. Messi's story is remarkable, but it's not otherworldly.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:35 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Those clips are fascinating. There seems to be value in a strategy of surprising the defense by Not Diving--a lot of the time they stop to watch the inevitable tuck and role, and fail to keep up the necessary momentum of their defense.
posted by TreeRooster at 9:43 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I am American in that I don't follow futball, I follow football. Really, I am a baseball fan and a college basketball fan, but that is not relevant here. Regardless of the sport I follow, I also appreciate the focused incredible athletes whether they play for "my" team or any team.

I lived in Chicago when Micheal Jordan was at his peak. I have seen the focus in his eyes and the sheer will to win. I have seen Wayne Gretsky score goals that he had no business even shooting. I watch Peyton Manning willing his team downfield.

Like millions of Americans I started watching soccer again after not really paying attention since the Cosmos ruled my childhood. Tim Howard put on one of the most impressive athletic perfomances I have ever seen.

But, the man-dog, Messi is in another class. I don't even know about his soccer skills per se but they are obviously superior. What I noticed was that he is not a flopper. He plays until the whistle, he does not try to get a whistle. He has pure determination in his eyes as the article says, but moreso in his heart. He actually gets an advantage by playing on rather than flopping because all the other players expect play to stop. Watch those clips. Watch the legs churn.

Like all the great athletes, sure he has superior talent, but he has heart and determination.
posted by 724A at 9:44 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


It's not just that he does stay up, or even that he tries to stay up, it's that he CAN stay up. That, to me, is his greatest skill.
posted by that's candlepin at 9:48 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


savetheclocktower: Messi's story is remarkable, but it's not otherworldly.

Everyone knows that Messi's just a human being, but like a few other athletes (and authors and artists and humanitarians and...and...and...) he can sometime make other people forget for a split second that what they're seeing isn't otherworldly. It's interesting in that context that Norberto Jansenson, who reads the essay in the clip, is a professional magician. The pleasure of stage magic is seeing something incredible done that you can't figure out. The same with athletes like Messi. I mean, you know what he does, he moves a ball around with his foot, but what he manages to do with that action just doesn't quite compute. If you see a slow motion replay you can figure it out, but in real time it's like he's taking shortcuts through reality.

I once saw Zinedine Zidane play live in his pomp. France was playing against Iceland, the first competitive game after the 1998 World Cup, a qualifier for the 2000 European Championships. The World Cup holders weren't expecting much opposition but fell behind due to a goalkeeper error. And then Zidane creates a goal out of nothing. Seeing it years later with the benefit of slow motion, it's reasonably clear what he does, but at the time it was like watching someone bend space-time.

When you've watched many games of football (and this goes for any sport) you start to get a feeling for what are the possible outcomes of any given situation. Your mind can basically figure out what's possible and what isn't at any given second. There's a cloud of probability and even when something statistically unlikely happens, like a successful shot on goal from fifty yards, your mind can process what's going on very quickly. Players like Zidane and Messi, they do something that your mind has a hard time grasping. That's why they can feel otherworldly. Even if, of course, they're just human beings.

Sometimes teams can play that way too. That French team which was almost given a rude shock by Iceland that day in 1998 ended up playing as near flawless an international tournament as any team ever has in my lifetime. At the 2000 European Champioships they seemed like they had been given a rulebook with some extra pages in it detailing things you could do with the ball that other teams hadn't been allowed to read. Barcelona were like that recently. Germany in the semi-final against Brazil last Tuesday. Performances like that tap into a part of the brain that wants to believe in the mythical. Any sufficiently advanced sports technique is indistinguishable from magic.
posted by Kattullus at 10:09 AM on July 11 [14 favorites]


In contrast, consider Floppin' Robben...
posted by jim in austin at 10:15 AM on July 11


I'd argue that he's just really, really good — so good that he'd rather continue the play than try to win a penalty or a free kick.

It took me a while to realize that most of the time diving isn't about a player trying to fake a foul to help their team dishonestly, it's basically the way a player alerts the ref that they are giving up on trying to continue and if there was a foul he can stop play. So basically Messi gives up much less often because he knows he has a good chance of getting something out of situations where most players would not be able to salvage anything. If it was possible to have a more rugby-like system where fouls are signaled and advantage is played for a relatively long period of time before the play is stopped, there would probably be less diving, because players could know that they would still get the free kick if they try to complete the play and it doesn't work out.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:24 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Look for Messi to go down a touch easily in the final and win the decisive penalty. He's been playing the long game by not going down his whole career. Until Sunday.
posted by Rumple at 10:40 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


My ideal result this Sunday is to see Messi to have a superb day and score some goals, but also see Germany clobber Argentina. Argentina doesn't deserve Messi.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:56 AM on July 11


This is a beautiful essay.

It's funny; after watching those clips I had found myself thinking of a cat, rather than a dog. But I guess the tenacity does recall a dog more...
posted by seyirci at 11:25 AM on July 11


...and having reread the essay, maybe the point isn't even fully Messi's canine qualities. This to me was the heart:
"[previous paragraph about legalities of recent games and about multi-game strategies]

...No, sir. Dogs don't listen to the radio, don't read the news, don't understand if a game is an unimportant friendly or the final of the championship. Dogs want to take the sponge to their dog bed even if they are tired to death or if the mites are killing them in pain.

Messi is a dog. He breaks records of other times because only until the 50's the dog-men played football. Afterwards, the FIFA invited us to talk about laws and articles, and we forgot how important the sponge is."
Yes. That. And Messi does the thing he does even in the penalty box, where others are looking for excuses to fall because that's a near-guaranteed goal. It feels otherworldly because he has those periods where he isn't interested in the legalities of the game the slightest bit.

(I don't believe he's in that fugue state for 90+30'' though, because they couldn't strap the captain's armband around his arm otherwise. At some point he is guiding strategy.)
posted by seyirci at 11:44 AM on July 11


It's funny; after watching those clips I had found myself thinking of a cat, rather than a dog. But I guess the tenacity does recall a dog more...

His nickname in Spanish speaking nations is La Pulga. The flea. Which always struck me as the most appropriate creature analogue.

So glad MeFi is finally getting Messi fever.
posted by dis_integration at 11:47 AM on July 11


Messi's father has blabbed that Messi is suffering from exhaustion. uh, thanks dad?

Great article and video, but let's not pretend that Messi is completely immune to flopping.

Everyone knows that Messi's just a human being, but like a few other athletes (and authors and artists and humanitarians and...and...and...) he can sometime make other people forget for a split second that what they're seeing isn't otherworldly.

Well said! This is fun stuff, and I hope that the players let loose and show us some exciting soccer on Sunday.
posted by beau jackson at 11:58 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I think burnmp3s has it. Players are getting fouled all the time, but will go down to bring it to the ref's attention. I also think that if you haven't played soccer you tend not to appreciate how much it can hurt to get kicked on the ankle or knee, and how easy it is to be knocked off balance by minimal touches when moving at speed.

Some pros also wear minimal shin guards in order to have a good feel for the ball, which makes them more vulnerable.

Both Messi (5' 7") and Maradona (5' 5") are small players and generally didn't/don't go down too easily, perhaps because they are small players, with a lower center of gravity, etc.
posted by idb at 2:13 PM on July 11


> It took me a while to realize that most of the time diving isn't about a player trying to fake a foul to help their team dishonestly, it's basically the way a player alerts the ref that they are giving up on trying to continue and if there was a foul he can stop play. So basically Messi gives up much less often because he knows he has a good chance of getting something out of situations where most players would not be able to salvage anything.

Exactly. This is what complicates the cries for retrospective diving bans, because most "dives" still involve contact, and that contact is usually significant enough to (arguably) warrant a foul. Messi is so good at eluding defenders and navigating the chaos of open play that he'd often rather have a one-on-three than an even-strength set piece.

> Everyone knows that Messi's just a human being, but like a few other athletes (and authors and artists and humanitarians and...and...and...) he can sometime make other people forget for a split second that what they're seeing isn't otherworldly.

What's funny is that I agree with nearly all of your comment. Transcendent athletic accomplishment is, to me, as artistic as anything on display in a museum, and of course it warrants passionate prose to describe it.

I mean, it's cool to call Messi a dog-man as long as you know that there's nothing qualitatively different about him — just massive quantities of talent on display. Whatever. I quibble.
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:37 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Thanks for a wonderful essay about a wonderful player (and the Jansenson reading is definitely the way to experience it). I really hope Messi can work his magic Sunday—not (just) so Argentina can win, but because it's such a gorgeous thing to see.

> I quibble.

Well, it wouldn't be MetaFilter without quibbling, and after all, without the various commenters taking the trouble to educate us, we were in danger of thinking that Messi was literally a dog who literally never in his life went down after a tackle.
posted by languagehat at 3:23 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


I do find the sentiments at the end of the essay a bit theologically dubious, but the rest of it is charming.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:39 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


It's funny, lately I've been thinking about quibbling regarding Messi. The wonderful football journalist Scott Murray said on the latest Guardian Football Weekly that Messi had never put on a defining performance. And on one level it's an absurd quibble, and as such acknowledged by Murray in the podcast. But there's something to it.

Messi has the weird problem of having been the standout player in what can be plausibly argued to be the best club team ever to grace the game, Barcelona in the years 2008-11. Certainly one of the top five without anyone disagreeing. Playing in a team of that caliber lifted Messi to new heights. The problem for him is that his luminous blend of skill, ability and technique created absurd expectations that he could play that way with just any group of players around him. Barcelona haven't managed that in the last two years, and the Argentine national team hasn't managed that. Messi, being the brilliant player that he is, has adapted his style to a new role. Argentina needs him to do other things than Barcelona do, so he does those other things better than any other player at the World Cup, acting like a calm distributor capable of dangerous dribbles and inch-perfect through-balls, always keeping his opponents from committing too many men forward in fear that Messi will turn any mistake into a counterattack.

But that's not what people picture in their heads when they think "Messi." They see a buccaneering whirlwind cannonballing into opposition defenses and emerging at the other end sidefooting the ball gently into the goal. Messi can't really do that on his own. He needs the players on his team to be constantly passing and moving, keeping the defenders from settling down and staying organized. He needs chaos to weave his spell. In theory, an Argentina able to call on di María, Lavezzi, Agüero and Higuaín should be able to pull any defense hither and thither, but in practice it hasn't worked out that way. So Messi hasn't really been the "Messi" we carry in our heads when playing in an Argentina shirt.

So Murray's quibble, absurd though it assuredly is, hits the nail on the head that we've never really seen Messi put on a solo show. To use a musical analogy, we know that Messi is the leading member in the best band of the last ten years, but we don't know if he can put out a good solo album. It's an absurd standard in a team sport, but until something like that happens, we can't define who Messi is. We've located the star, but we need another telescope to view it from another angle before we can know exactly what sort of star it is.

But yes, it's an absurd quibble, because Messi truly belongs in that very small group of players about whom people argue whether they could be the greatest ever.
posted by Kattullus at 3:55 PM on July 11 [4 favorites]


I agree: Messi is an artist on the pitch, sports have the power to spontaneously create "magical" moments, and the present essay is a compelling rumination on these phenomena.

But--and there's always a but--I could not stand his invocation of "true footballers" or "pure football" as some past glory lost to our "rule-focused" (i.e. petty, derivative, etc.) modernity. This reads as anti-intellectual drivel--he is grasping at theological straws. Rules, analysis, and diving are layers of the sport. The beauty, the determination, the genius, it is and always has been there underneath those layers--whether it's 1950 or 2015.

/late quibble
posted by Don Don at 10:24 PM on July 11


Messi's father has blabbed that Messi is suffering from exhaustion. uh, thanks dad?


Ferenc Puskas played 600 games in 23 years. Messi 314 in 10 (including his youth appearances). No wonder he's exhausted.

I'd also say that Messi has produced a ton of defining performances: it's the difference between an artist with one major work and someone like Bach with a bunch of them.
posted by ersatz at 7:00 AM on July 12


> I could not stand his invocation of "true footballers" or "pure football" as some past glory lost to our "rule-focused" (i.e. petty, derivative, etc.) modernity. This reads as anti-intellectual drivel

If you have contempt for that, you must have contempt for virtually everyone who has ever written about the game (and I'm guessing for most of the people who follow and love it). I didn't grow up with soccer/football, but I've been increasingly hooked on it for the last twenty years and have been reading a whole lot about it, and I don't think I've seen anyone celebrating the glories of catenaccio and the 0-0 draw, for example. It's fine to say "it's all football" and refuse to condemn it, and obviously from one perspective the point of football, as of any game, is to win, but if that's all that matters and the way of achieving it is ugly enough, people are going to lose interest and stop coming—as has in fact happened at various points in various places. People like exciting, open, attacking football; they like seeing goals once in a while; they like displays of individual brilliance and valor. You're welcome not to feel that way, but come on, "anti-intellectual drivel"?
posted by languagehat at 7:02 AM on July 12


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