Ligue 1 English

In the defense of a simple football genius

Criticism has certainly not been wanting insofar as Paris Saint-Germain’s 2-1 loss to Manchester City is concerned in the UEFA Champions League away group stage. All it took was one match and the self-proclaimed, self-righteous zealots and pundits from a past of lesser glory puffed up their chests and took aim at Argentine forward Lionel Messi, with some potshots also targeted at his other two compadres in the MNM trident, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. That notwithstanding, Argentine head coach Mauricio Pochettino has also not been spared the criticism for failing to get the best out of his world-beating frontline, besides being unable to get them to shoulder their share of the weight of defensive duties when not on the ball.

Messi, in particular, has been heavy on the receiving end of verbal brickbats, even to the extent of being openly labeled a ‘passenger’ by the likes of presumptuous pundits like Jamie Carragher of former Liverpool repute, who has suddenly fancied himself to be some new messiah in declaring the Argentine, whom many regard as the most talented and best footballer ever to kick a ball, as ineffective and a hindrance to the PSG team’s ambitions to win their first Champions League trophy.

Just to jog the frail memories of the righteous dissidents in an attempt to be fair to he who many regard as the GOAT, it wasn’t all that long ago when even the great Pep Guardiola himself had openly lauded, unstintingly, the superb goal scored by Messi in the previous Champions League encounter at the Parc des Princes when the Parisian giants won that leg of the encounter then. Oh, the plaudits were coming on for the Argentine wizard in a tsunami flow then with the ever-fickle pundits with the ‘I am God’ syndrome suddenly prostrating while oozing with ever-ascending praise and acclaim for Messi. Now, at the wink of an eye, he’s supposedly toast, reduced to a mere mortal with feet of lead?

How fickle these hooded hordes are now as scribes with a keyboard at their fingertips instead of a football at their feet. They congregate in plush settings with huge monitors around them while they engage in their supposedly insightful, football teté-a-teté, dissecting all and sundry in either their new roles as pundits or as observers with no real vested interests except for being managers with some other clubs in their present capacities. Which, oddly, seems to qualify them as the all-knowing experts who are the be-all of football.

Suddenly, in just a few short weeks, after having failed to record a goal contribution and logging a mere assist, the 6-time Ballon D’or winner has not only been criticized, but brutally crucified, for his performance, with even the likes of his teammate of old, Henri Thierry, lambasting him for being a passenger in the team. The audacity and impudence of it all.

The latest to weigh in on the issue is former France national team manager Raymond Domenech, who has opted to prefer a position sitting on the fence with a view on both sides of this matter. He believes via L’Equipe that the Argentine should not be criticized for his lack of defensive contributions, although he also opines that the veteran forward should be more assertive while on the ball.

Chiding Messi, of all the people in the entire football universe, for not having been more ‘assertive’ while on the ball is not unlike reprimanding Einstein for being a tad imprecise while crunching the numbers in formulating his equations of universal, quantum proportions. Suddenly these mere mortals from another lesser world of football past have taken it upon themselves to proclaim judgment on a football genius hailed even as being ‘other-worldly’ for his unnatural talents and magical skills with the ball in his prime. Sure, the physical abilities definitely diminish with the passage of time but this does not mean that a Messi at 34 is already a dud on the pitch, by any means.

“He walks but Messi has always walked,” Domenech said. “You can’t blame him for walking, but you can blame him for the fact that now when he runs, less happens than before. That’s the difference, but his ability and his game has always been that he could go from zero to 100 in a snap of the fingers.

“You can’t blame him for walking, but you can say that he is not the same Messi when he runs. He lacks something, so I understand the criticism… but we can not ask him to run in all directions, it’s not his thing and it is true that it must be organized around him.”

Except for the early years in his prime when the Barcelona lynchpin and wizard could zig-zag all over the pitch at will, Messi’s later years habit of ‘walking’ when not on the ball had long been a topic of debate even during his run at Barcelona. Yet, when he was in his element, which could be at any instant in time, he more than compensated for his lack of pressing with his still effortless, scintillating moves as both a goal-scorer and one of the best playmakers the world has ever been most privileged to see in action still.

And, insofar as the former greats like Thierry Henry, Nicholas Anelka and others are concerned who are now safely perched atop their self-erected ivory towers and dispensing at random their football wisdom, it wouldn’t be erroneous to say that many of them are finally daring to speak up against the Argentine for various reasons ranging from envy, insecurity and even racial bigotry as he is clearly not French. Bitter pills to swallow but invariably the truth, regardless.

Knowing Messi, it’s only a matter of time before he switches from ‘from zero to 100 in a snap of the fingers’, like Domenech himself had said earlier.