Tuesday he was gasping for air and throwing up at halftime in La Paz's 3,650-meter rarefied atmosphere during Argentina's 1-1 draw with Bolivia in the FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifications. Wednesday he flew back to Barcelona and Thursday he was at practice, though he didn't have to. Saturday he wore FC Barcelona's captain armband for the first time in a league game. He scored a goal in the 73rd minute, almost giving his team a 2-1 victory. Lacking focus and an elementary sense of history his teammates found a way to spoil Lionel Messi's day, allowing a late Celta Vigo goal for a 2-2 tie.
But Messi's goal set another record, one that most likely we won't live to see duplicated. The Argentine wizard has now scored in 19 consecutive league games, meaning he has scored at least one goal against every one of the La Liga teams since the streak started (against Mallorca) on November 11 last year. He scored 30 goals in these 19 games and has 43 goals in 29 La Liga matches. If he keeps up the pace he's bound to surpass his own league record of 50 goals in one season set last year. Messi has scored almost half of Barcelona's league goals (90) this campaign. He has more goals than 16 of the teams in the Spanish league.
It's time perhaps to stop comparing Messi to Pele and Maradona or other greats from the past. None of them can claim his feats. What Messi is doing is unique, unprecedented, impossible. It's also time to stop comparing him to Cristiano Ronaldo, because it's insulting. Ronaldo is a wonderful player, but Messi plays another game. He can only be compared to himself. What's amazing, considering at what level he plays, is that every year he's better than the year before. He's only 25, so probably he hasn't peaked, but what he has done so far this season is enough to bring him the 5th straight FIFA Ballon d'Or.
It's been said that Messi is so prolific because he has the most wonderful football machine playing for him, Spain's national team, world and european champion. That's true, in general, when genial playmakers Xavi and Iniesta are on the field. It is also true that sometimes Messi keeps this thing afloat by himself. Against Celta Vigo he really had only young Christian Tello (fast, aggressive, "vertical") on his side. The others were impostors in Barcelona uniform.
The readers of the Catalan newspaper Sport gave 10 Barça players notes under 5 (on a scale from 1 to 10), and the team averaged 4.8. The most awful were those who were supposed to be Messi's closest partners in Barça's offensive output: Fabregas (3.2), a sad shadow of himself; Thiago (3.5) an arrogant, lazy and selfish sell-him-now player; and Alexis (3.5), forever a bust.
Late in the game caretaker Jordi Roura replaced the three amigos with Iniesta, Villa and Busquets, but the indifferent team, thinking probably ahead at Tuesday's Champions League game at Paris Saint-Germain, dropped two points and ruined Messi's special day, allowing the modest hosts a goal they did not expect. Hopefully the saboteurs will be on the bench in Paris.
Vladimir Moraru played soccer for 15 years and has watched it for 60. He hasn't seen a player like Messi and a team like FC Barcelona.
- Sports & Recreation
- Lionel Messi
- FC Barcelona