Almost everyone who loves sports has, over the past decade, witnessed Lionel Messi effortlessly slice through defenses and score goals that leave jaws dropping and eyes wide. Such breathtaking moments in soccer are typically rare, but the question, “How did he do that?” has become inherently part of what commentators say when Messi dribbles, passes or scores.If you have played the game, Messi’s brilliance becomes even more impossible to comprehend. There are plenty of examples. One is Messi’s goal against Real Zaragoza in 2010. The game had been lolling along with predictable passing and defending until Messi, with the ball at his feet, shook off an aggressive defender at the halfway line before sharply turning and running at the opposing team’s back-line. As he neared the four defenders, a lion vs. the lamb situation became obvious to the viewer. His graceful and powerful movements wildly contrasted the fearfully uncertain stumbles of the defense. Messi took on the four men-one of them twice, who was left in a spin- before skipping past the last defender to drill a low shot with cunning precision past Zaragoza’s goalkeeper Jimenez Roberto.
At an early age, it was discovered that he suffered from a growth hormone deficiency. FC Barcelona offered to pay for his hormone-deficiency treatments if he agreed to play for the club’s youth academy. Unable to pay the medical expenses, his parents decided this offer was too good to pass up and soon Messi and his father left their home and family in Argentina for Barcelona, Spain.
Like most professional athletes, he had already developed a remarkable “kinesthetic sense,” which is the ability to regulate bodily movements through complex sensory inputs, including feel, touch, posture, balance, coordination, reflex, control and more. This explains his ability to gracefully dribble through defenders, his senses assessing multiple variables, such as the weight of the ball, his forward velocity and the slight movements of defenders, at an impossibly fast speed.
Because the club was paying his medical bills, which were crucial to his physical development, Messi experienced a great pressure to grow quickly as a soccer player. And this is where sheer repetition in training at an early age gives you “the edge” over not only your opponents, but mother nature herself. At Barcelona’s youth academy, Messi developed at a remarkable pace, eventually working his way up from the junior Infantil B team to the senior team by age of 17.
At 5’7”, Messi is considered to be on the shorter side, but this has worked to his advantage, allowing him a quickness and low center of gravity that trumps the brute strength of taller opponents. They call him La Pulga—Spanish for “the Flea”—because as reporter Roberto Saviano puts it, “from high up in the stands Messi is a tiny, fast, unstoppable black dot.” There have been athletes throughout history that have shown the same power over gravity and physics. These include Michael Jordan, who seemed to be able to hang in the air a few seconds longer than gravity allows, and Roger Federer, who can control his body so well that he seems to float effortlessly to whatever part of the court the ball is racing for. And Messi is of the same breed—time seems to be on his side, and he is never off-balance. His movement is so instinctual that defenders find it difficult to track him throughout the game. The ball is glued to his foot and his opponents seem to become slower as he approaches them.
Since his humble beginnings in a small village in Argentina, Messi has become the world’s greatest soccer player. He has broken records that would be unattainable for his fellow professional teammates and opponents. He has consecutively won 4 FIFA Ballon d’Or awards, the pinnacle of a footballer’s recognition through award. He has had the most hat-tricks in the UEFA Champions League, achieved 4 times and the list goes on and on. Lionel Messi has become something of a worldwide Internet sensation, and is regarded as the best player in the world, which sounds abstract and nice, but it’s important to understand that Messi is not a god, but rather human. He shows that skill, speed, vision and power are the skeleton of soccer, but the flesh lies in the drive to reach your fullest potential. And for Messi, that potential is pretty damn high.