When Michal Kadlec and Manuel Friedrich, two Bayer Leverkusen players, squabbled over Leo Messi’s shirt after the game against the Barcelona team they only confirmed what many suspect: even Messi’s shirt has magical powers. The players’ behavior was severely criticized by Rudi Voeller, the German team’s coach who declared, “What the pair did was over the top.”
Kadlec, who scored his team’s only goal in the 3–1 defeat to Barca, later said, “When you play against such a player, then you always want his shirt.” Voeller declared to the German newspaper Bild that he was truly disappointed with the players’ behavior, particularly when “90 percent of the team was fully concentrated on the game.” And Voeller also said that the two players will auction off their Messi’s shirts for a good cause.
This is not the first time that members of the opposing team have shown their admiration for the Argentine player. During many games, after Messi performs one of his brilliant moves, opposing players pat him affectionately on the head, almost acknowledging, “It was a shame that you couldn’t make a goal after this beautiful play.”
Jose Delbo, an 87-year-old Argentine Messi fan who follows every game from his home in Florida, told me recently, “I have never before been so moved seeing a player’s game as I am so now with Messi. After some of his beautiful plays I almost feel like crying.”
Many claim that Messi is the result of Pep Guardiola’s teachings in Barcelona. They seem to forget that as a child in Argentina Messi was already a brilliant player. Ernesto Vecchio, a coach from his youth, declared recently, “As a player, he is very similar now to how he was as a youngster.” Vecchio added, “He decides in milliseconds what he is going to do with the ball at his feet.”
Because of this spectacular speed and brilliance in making decisions, how Messi’s brain works is now being studied by a Dutch physician, Pieter Medendorp at Radboud University of Nijmegen to learn “how people make split-second decisions and know how to prioritize.”
Dr. Medendorp is fascinated by how people make quick decisions, particularly when moving. It is Messi’s ability to concentrate opponents in front of him and then almost effortlessly weave through them that particularly interests Medendorp. Medencorp explained, “In the field, Messi knows where to find the others [players] and then decide not only how to escape from a marking or where to go but also what to do with the ball.”
Guardiola, who carefully nurtured Messi’s talent, said of his ability to concentrate several opponents to mark him and stop his game that “Messi plays even when he doesn’t play.” Realizing Messi’s unusual skill, Guardiola has been determined in his decision to make other players work in supporting roles to the Argentine star. Even Barca’s new signings were made taking into account the new players’ compatibility with Messi. The Swedish player Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s expensive contract was canceled because he didn’t get along with Messi.
British commentator Ray Hudson says in his poem titled “Vintage Messi”:
How many angels
can dance on the head of a pin?
There is no answer
It’s like counting the bubbles
In a bottle of Champagne.
When recently in London, the retired Brazilian soccer player Pele was asked about Messi, Pele said, “I would love to play with Lionel Messi. But Messi is an incomplete player because he cannot use his head.”
It is an opinion not shared by the Argentine Maradona who once stated, “He is at a select level, being the best in the world and a star in Barcelona. Leo is playing a kick-about with Jesus.”
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a New York consultant and writer.