There are some players who you want to see play all the time. There are some players who are so good you secretly love watching them even if they played for your hated rivals. There are some players who can inspire such loyalty that you would change club allegiances if they move.
Then there are the very few, very special players who it is simply a privilege to experience. Who do things which haven't been done before and will likely not be repeated in your lifetime. Whose brilliance transcends boundaries and unites every fan in experiencing that simple feeling which is the hardest to command - the pride of saying "Yes, I was there. I've seen him play."
Lionel Andres Messi is such a player.
This is like flogging a dead horse, no? Reams have been written about him in recent times, nothing really is left to be said. Hell, even the narrow minded English football fan who is myopic enough to believe that Theo Walcott is the X-Factor in any game, let alone a game against Barcelona, is coming around to the realisation that the lad probably is actually good. But really, how can I not?
Leo Messi is making the impossible routine. In the last 30 days he has scored 16 goals. 16! That's more than what Emile Heskey has scored in the last three seasons. Combined. He scored thrice three times in 2010 including in two successive matches in the league and so made the hattrick passe. Therefore, he went and scored four yesterday against Arsenal. And the scariest part is, yesterday wasn't his best performance, he is capable of doing better. And he is only 22.
But the statistics are not the point. They are just a side effect of his brilliance. The point is his brilliance. The point is it is such a joy for anyone to watch him play. The sheer raw innocence of taking defenders on and beating them every single time. He is the child who never grew up, the child who made a monkey's uncle of his playground opponents just because he could, and still does it. He is what we all daydreamed of becoming during our childhood, he is our dreams magnified. As Sid Lowe puts it, "he has made the ridiculous so routine that he doesn't get talked about as much as deserves; playing perfectly is hardly news." He has scored more solo goals in this calendar year than most Ballon d' Or winners have scored in their career. He is a throwback to an era when skill was more valued than physicality, he has shown that genius cannot be obtained merely by being the fastest runner or the strongest bulldozer. He makes the cheeky lovable, the impudent adorable. And he does it all without declaring that he is the first, second and third best in the world. He doesn't need to.
Leo Messi has become so good that the debate is no longer whether he is the best player in the world. The debate has shifted to whether he is the best player ever. While that is something which can only be decided at the end of his career, it is easy to see what the next step towards achieving that status is - the World Cup. Although I am traditionally a Brazil fan, a part of me will be cheering him on this time. And you wouldn't put it past him to do a Maradona and drag his country to the trophy.
Regardless of what happens, even if he by, the unlikeliest of transfers, moves to Real Madrid, I will watch him play as much as I can. Yesterday, a new mission was added to my 'things to do before I die' list; I have to watch him play live once. Because then I can boast that "Yes, I was there. I've seen him play."