Sean Ingle writes for the Guardian that even five Ballons d’Or don’t do the greatest player of all time justice. He is head about the best and most talented footballers. In everything.
The acclaimed music journalist David Hepworth has argued in his book, Nothing is Real, that The Beatles were underrated. Yes, you read that right. Will all the charts, awards, popularity and praise they continue to receive back to our days, they are still underrated. Sean Ingle makes the same argument for Messi.
“Despite all the strikes and superlatives, the countless displays of brilliance and the five Ballons d’Or since he made his debut as a runty teen in a friendly against Porto 15 years ago this week, Messi is underrated”, Ingle writes.
Why is that so? Well, let’s see…
In a new documentary about Barcelona best years, Take The Ball, Pass The Ball, Xavi explains it the best:
“Messi’s unstoppable. It’s a natural talent that’s only given to the chosen ones. Maybe in 20 or 30 years there will be another one. But right now it’s Messi. He’s better than you with his right foot, left foot and his head. He’s better at defending and attacking. He’s faster. Better at dribbling, better at passing.”“What about goalkeeper,” the question comes. “We haven’t put him in goal yet,” comes the reply. “But watch out if he tries that too.”
In the same documentary, Samuel Eto’o remembers how he told Partick Viera back in 2005 that Messi was meant to change the history of football: “I told him one day it would seem like every player who came before Messi was playing a different sport.”
Stats to back it
Citing Omar Chaudhuri, the head of football intelligence for the leading consultancy 21st Club, Tinge points out that Messi averages 1.44 goals and assists for every 90 minutes in La Liga since 2009-10 (excluding penalties). To put this – already mind-blowing – number in the context, Cristiano Ronaldo is next best with 1.21, while Luis Suarez (1.12), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (0.98) and Neymar (0.97) making up the top five.
Moreover, the volume of Messi’s contribution is incredible, too. He “has either created or scored 46% of Barcelona’s goals in La Liga in the past decade (excluding penalties). That speaks both for Messi’s unbelievable goal production and for his longevity and ability to stay fit.”
Only Antonio Di Natale comes close (45% of goals for Udinese) to these numbers before a drop-off to Suarez and Ronaldo (39%).
The gap between Messi and Ronaldo is also worth noticing. While the Portuguese is certainly one of the best, Messi is simply unreachable.
What about non-goal contribution? Messi excels everyone else in passing, too. “Since Opta started collecting such data in 2008, no attacking player in the big five leagues who attempts as many forward passes as Messi has a better pass completion rate. As Chaudhuri explains, ‘not only does he attempt a high number of difficult passes, he pulls them off better than anyone else in his position’.
Playing devil’s advocate: what about the World Cup?
Yes, “he has never led Argentina to a World Cup,” admits Ingle. “But in 2010 he was managed by Diego Maradona, whose leadership philosophy would have raised eyebrows in a banana republic, while in 2014 and 2018 Argentina lost against the eventual winners. Football remains a team game, no matter how great the individual.”