Pep Guardiola, during his spell as Barcelona manager, once joked that he had run out of words to describe Lionel Messi, who is widely considered by many as the greatest footballer ever.
To drive home this status, the acronym GOAT – which stands for ‘greatest of all time’ – follows Barça’s No.10 where ever he goes and has subsequently become a meme on social media.
What’s incredible is the fact that it’s not done unironically, like with so many others. There’s a genuine strong argument that Messi, who has now incredibly bagged 634 goals for Barcelona in 731 games, is in every sense exactly what folks say he is.
Despite entering his twilight years and looking set to leave Barcelona, handing in a transfer request, the Rosario-born forward continues to amaze every football romantic.
Until now, the secret of Messi’s genius hasn’t been cracked. A decade ago – following his first Ballon d’Or success – he was kind enough to sum up his game, however.
I never think about the play or visualize anything. I do what comes to me at that moment. Instinct. It has always been that way – Messi, in a 2009 ESPN interview
It will be a sad day for spectators when Messi eventually hangs up his boots, though quite the opposite for some of his opponents. No longer will they be victimised by this footballing alien.
Messi is not the first to elicit both fear and admiration. Others who can lay claim to holding such incredible powers include Alfredo Di Stéfano, Pele, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona.
What sets him apart, though, is the consistency and length of time for which he’s been performing at the highest level. Jorge Valdano, back in 2013, put this quite well when he said “Messi is Maradona every day. He has played at the level of Maradona in 1986 for the past five years.”
There will be studies of him long after he’s retired. But we will still end up with the same conclusion many draw now, that what Messi’s capable of doing cannot be coached. It’s very much instinctive, which he’s known all along.