It’s lonely at the top.
When someone is so clearly the best player of his generation — as Lionel Messi is right now — that person doesn’t have to worry about peers, rather history. Put plainly: Lionel Messi has a chance to be the best player to ever step on a pitch.
And let’s put to the bed the “maybe he isn’t the best” arguments; Cristiano Ronaldo had 87 goals in 221 matches when he left Man Utd at the age of 24. Messi’s that age now and he has 160 in 210. Even the stiffer competition of the EPL over La Liga can’t account for that gap.
But twice in four days, Messi has flubbed his lines on massive stages. First, he couldn’t break through in Saturday’s El Clasico followed by his missed PK in this afternoon’s Champions League semi-final versus Chelsea. It was shocking for anyone who isn’t a cynical fan of Argentina’s national team. Picasso painted by number. Casey had struck out. Messi missed.
It doesn’t change Messi’s place as the best — even while throngs of naysayers fall all over themselves to give Neymar or Ronaldo the crown — but it will test the mettle of the game’s best. At best, it’s a blip and he goes on to add to his three Champions League titles numerous times. At worst, could the duo of big stage boners taunt him like cocaine did Maradona?
I doubt it, but if there are those wondering what the big deal is, they need to keep Messi’s competition at the front of their minds. It’s the Atomic Ant against Pele, just like it’s Kobe v. MJ, Sid v. The Great One and Brady v. Montana.
Guys who average 54 goals per year for three years don’t drop off the radar, but what will be telling is whether the sour ending to a brilliant 2011-12 carries over to next season or fuels Messi to find another level. If he does, look out.