Shravan Bhat
I write about start-ups, sports, food and international affairs.

Lionel Messi is Human

Everyone plays football. Lionel Messi is playing something else right now. Every week he gives football fans something new to coo and fawn over. His close control while running at speed is something only his prodigiously gifted Barcelona team-mate, Andrés Iniesta, can better. The general public have begun to ask what football fans have been asking for while: is he the greatest footballer of all time?

Photo Credit : Paul Hanna / Reuters

A couple of weeks ago, Messi scored his 86th of the year, surpassing Gerd Müller’s record for the most goals scored for club and country in a single calendar year (the German ‘hitman‘, scored 85 goals in 60 games in 1978). The Argentinean ‘flea‘ has since scored 5 more to take his tally for the year to 91. A new record and a new benchmark for everyone else.

It’s not just the number of goals he’s scored, but the finesse and effortlessness with which he scores goals that takes your breath away. It’s reached a stage where if you give him the ball inside the box, he will hit the target and, chances are, the shot will curl into the far corner. He’s made those dribble-and-finish goals that used to make fans ooh and aah the done thing. Watching his 91 goals this past year are ten minutes well spent.

YouTube Preview Image

Messi is one of the most ubiquitously loved athletes on the planet because of his attitude, his commitment, his sportsmanship and his modesty. He has won over neutral fans like no other; even Real Madrid fans will grudging accept his quality in spite of their own talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, providing Messi admirable competition season after season.

Speaking of Ronaldo brings me to the main point of this post.

Recently, there has been a slightly worrying trend. Fans have begun to castigate Ronaldo for what they perceive as his arrogance, poor attitude and cheating, and contrasting him—unfavourably—with Messi on those counts.

Myopia is a condition most of us football fans suffer from when it comes to assessing players. I love Messi as much as anyone, but it’s time to take off our rose-tinted glasses. One must be consistent in what one praises or condemns.

Lionel Messi is no angel. He is emotional like you and I, and he has the same flaws as any footballer. He takes after his legendary Argentinian spiritual forebear, Diego Maradona, in many ways. His jinking runs and sublime left-footed curlers are reminiscent of the controversial, stocky, curly-haired star of the 80s. But he also shares a more sinister trait: he has scored with his hand and claimed it. Against local rivals Espanyol in the 2006/07 season, he gave us his rendition of the ‘Hand of God.’

YouTube Preview Image

He was young, he was naive and it was a big game but he still cheated. And celebrated. It was bad sportsmanship but a year later he did something that is frowned upon even outside the football pitch: he spat at his opponent. The Málaga player, Duda, had his back turned and Messi fired off a different kind of shot.

YouTube Preview Image

That night, like in most games he plays, his opponents kicked him and kicked him and kicked him some more. The pitch was totally water-logged and his ankles were bruised from being battered unceremoniously by defenders. But he got up and got on with it like he usually does. Then his emotions got the better of him and he made a mistake; one I’m sure he regrets. Spitting at an opponent usually gets a lot of media attention but this incident was not really covered by the press as much as other infamous liquid projectiles. For instance, Messi’s former coach at Barcelona, Frank Rijkaard, is regularly reminded of this crime. Few teams have systematically tried to bring down Messi more than Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid. You can begrudge Lionel some frustration after the scissor tackles and covert elbows he gets during El Clásico matches between Spain’s two most successful teams. You struggle, though, to forgive behaviour like this.

YouTube Preview Image

Is Messi the first player to smash the ball into spectators? No. In fact Rio Ferdinand infamously smashed a ball into his own fans at Old Trafford in frustration. In Messi’s case, the hostile fans had been booing, swearing and snarling at him all game. Players get angry. They make mistakes. Actions like these, from little Lionel, do not however fit the image of the perfect, angelic role model that is often projected on to him! We judge his goal-scoring by the standards by which we evaluate his contemporaries, so we must judge his faults by the same measure.

When it comes to one of modern football’s darker aspects, we must be clear: Messi has dived. He is not a ‘diver‘—whatever that means—but has collapsed theatrically to the turf on more than one occasion. He is famous for staying on his feet even after atrocious challenges rain down on him from talentless cloggers who want to scythe him down. On one level it’s understandable that once or twice, he wants to go to ground a little easy, when he sees a crunching tackle coming in that may or may not win the ball but which will definitely hurt him. The sad thing is that even football’s most praised ambassador is guilty of committing a crime for which lesser players are permanently branded villains.

YouTube Preview Image

Messi dives—but then most players these days do. It is more a reflection of the game today than of his integrity as a player. As sports fans, we suspend reality for a while and pour all our joy into our heroes without considering all the facts or facets of their character. The double-standards that are often thrown around when the inevitable comparisons between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are made are seldom examined. It is fair to prefer Messi as a player because of his footballing abilities, but it is totally unfair to disregard Ronaldo because of his footballing sins. When people say they “I hate Cristiano Ronaldo“, it’s always interesting to ask why. One often finds the reasons are shallow and allegations about the Portuguese goal machine’s character can be leveled at pretty much every footballer today, Messi included.

This curious ‘two-party system’ has led to the general feeling that as a football fan you have to choose between liking Messi or liking Ronaldo, an absurd and tiring fallacy. Every week one scores a brilliant goal only for the other to better it. Ronaldo broke the record for most goals scored in the Spanish league in a season and Messi smashed it. There was a time where the two of them were arguably on par with each other. Now however, Messi has reached a new level of performance and Ronaldo, Iniesta and indeed the rest of the world, have been left in his wake. One should enjoy Messi for his football and Ronaldo for his. One should be able to enjoy their vastly different styles and applaud the new heights to which Messi, Ronaldo and Iniesta have raised the sport. As fans we mustn’t lose ourselves in Messi-mania. He is human.

Messi is what people want football to be: skill that triumphs over brawn, modesty that smothers arrogance, finesse that trumps power, attack that beats defence. Perhaps that is why all of us turn a blind eye to the messiah’s sins.


PS. Just today, Sky Sports released a wonderful 22 minute documentary on Messi’s footballing upbringing in Barcelona and the incredible year he’s had. Enjoy!

YouTube Preview Image
Post Your Comment
Required, will not be published
All comments are moderated

The Russian football team manager Fabio Capello says that the captain of Argentina team, Lionel Messi is more skillful than the famous soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo.
I would not necessarily judge Ronaldo for his behavior on the field, but rather outside it. When getting his record 91 goals in a year Messi said something along the lines of "I am very happy with my record, but winning for the team is still more important". Every time after winning his three (and hopefully soon four) Ballon d'ors, he always thanked all his team mates and said he could not have done it without them. Every time he is credited for his personal achievements, he says the team is more important. You can't say that he does not care about the Ballon D'Or at all, but significantly less than Ronaldo. At times you get the impression the Ballon D'or is all CR cares about. Besides that, he has also said that he is better than Messi. Something Messi, humble as he is, would never say about his counterpart. I am not saying Messi is a saint, but compared to CR he is the better man in both football skills and attitude.
It has always been clear that Messi is human and obviously contains and has demonstrated evils that come with being a competitive sportsman. This guy is a Ronaldo fan. Despite the effort of trying to sound FAIR, he doesn't fool anyone.
Yes, Azhar, I am a Ronaldo fan! But I'm also a Messi fan. And an Arsenal fan. And a Mario Balotelli fan. Am I not allowed to be a fan of more than one player / team?
Forgive and Forget :)
I love messi. So i made a page in facebook pls share the page.
hahahaha so amazing.can you do same reserch on ronaldo plz
Great article mate! Messi DOES has faults, but the thing is that his faults are just more minor than everyone else's. The most "faultless" footballer has to be Iniesta, even though Messi is the world's best. Hope to read more from you!
I think you miss the point about Messi and Ronaldo. I am a Messi fan for all that he is. Yes he is not perfect, I don't believe people believe that he is. Why I dislike Ronaldo has nothing to do with diving, etc but his attitude. He complains and whines more than any other footballer I have ever seen to the detriment of his own team. I can remember an El classico where he believed he should of been giving a PK and he just sat there on the ground looking incredulous that he wasn't awarded one, while he sat there on his butt , his team mates continued to play on and the ball was crossed back to him but he was on his butt complaining. If he had just gotten up and continued to play he would of had an open shot on goal. Messi gets up and may even smile. That's is why I dislike Ronaldo so much because this happens pretty much every game. He is in it for himself and not his team mates.
You keep saying Messi dived many times, yet you posted ONE clip in which not even everyone is sure he dove. He wasn't even asking for a freekick in that clip! I am a Messi fan, and I used to be a Ronald fan (until he joined Madrid). Personally I don't think Ronaldo's "arrogance" or "confidence" should matter when judging his ability. He is a great player, "the greatest 2nd best player of all time!" as they said on JSC. My point, however, is that if you're going to accuse Messi of being a diver, do a research and show us more clips where he actually dives. I'll stick around and wait for your result so post it here mate. Nice try though!
Hey John, thanks for pointing that out. If you read the article you would have seen that I specifically said that Messi is NOT a diver and he seldom dives. The point is that he has dived on a few occasions. Whether it's one dive or a million, it doesn't change the fact that he tried to con the ref. Here is an example against Real Sociedad: There was minimal contact and he threw himself to the ground and got booked. Do you remember the Champions League match against Chelsea in the 04/05 season when del Horno clattered into him and Messi rolled on the floor, looked at the ref and then rolled some more? I know I'm clutching at straws and that's exactly the point: Messi stays on his feet 99% of the time. All I'm saying is that we really shouldn't ignore the 1%. That being said, diving is a endemic problem in the game - though I don't believe it's anywhere near the biggest.
This is absolutely 5 minutes utterly poorly spent. Full of negative vibes. All in all a dump article.
You are an attention seeking sad man, my friend. Why do you think people don't talk about his flaws often? Here comes his greatness as a player and a human being. He is just that good to overshadow those. The truth is no one can fool billions. Don't you think you are smarter than the mobs. Because you aren't.
Sorry LP, I didn't mean you. It's for the writer.
seeing there comments make me laugh and just proves ur point. Messi is the better player but im getting tired of hearing people criticise Ronaldo while ignoring Messi. Yes Messi does it a lot less but he still does it and i dont see many Messi fans saying how far Ronaldo has downed down on the diving. I can confidently say Messi fans are one of the most hypocritical people in the world. There people make me like Messi less. Author is right in saying its hard to like both. I like both equally but im mostly defending Ronaldo from hypocritical Messi fans.
If is any one else?
Im Messi fan like all old and young people who love an art. His football is modern art which makes football heaters to watch and enjoy. I don’t know is any one else who takes such fouls in one action and tries to finish it. In any one else who takes kicking from four players and fight to finish the action. Can any one tell me who that one is?
I am Argentinian and we football fans have lived the past 30 years in the shadow of Maradona, including Lionel. The goal scored with his hand was nothing but a statement: "Here I am, Maradona is no longer your god". Do you really think that he was just cheating to score one goal? Same position, same angle, same goalkeeper coming... A perfect replica of Diego's goal. The same as the incredible dribbling against Getafe, replicating the goal of the century. Good article, though. Ultimately Lionel is Argentinian, perfection (or saints) and Argentina do not get along well... Cheers
Thanks, Alejandro! What a wonderful post! So you're saying Messi is going to move to Italy and win with Napoli? I would love to see that! ;)
Why not as Ronaldo is deciding a try with Stock City or Wigan Athletics
No, I think he is not walking in that shadow any longer, and we followed him into the sunlight. :)
Wow, Messi is human :) Great title and greater content. Its people like me who should be 'hanged', for reading crap like these and then COMMENTING on the same.
You can find an example of dolphins biting people, but they're still a friendly animal. You can find examples of lions adopting baby gazelle, but a lion is still a lion on the whole. Because of the way Messi is, it is his modesty, his professionalism that SHOULD be noticed and that crap in your videos should be forgotten because ON THE WHOLE he is a great role model for all the kids watching him. And thank GOD there is an athlete out there who gets so much attention for talent and demeanor alone, not for controversy. You will never see Messi saying "They are jealous because I'm good looking, rich and a great footballer". How long did it take you to find examples of Messi diving? Could you easily find another 100 such examples? How about the same questions for Ronaldo? Point made I think. Use your writing talent to write something that is reflective of the truth next time.
You make some fair points but I stand by my argument: he has done some pretty dastardly things. I can think of very few top players who have spat at an opponent, for example. It didn't take me long to find those examples at all. I've been following his career as a fan for the better part of a decade. Why should we forget the wrongs he has done? I don't think that's fair. I'm a football fan first and a Messi fan second, so I think we must be consistent.
As much as I agree with u that Messi has dived before, your video of his dive is a very bad example, you can see he clearly does not try to get a penalty once he falls, he quickly gets back to his feet and on with it. It is acceptable that he didn't want to meet the challenge and jumped out of it's way, what is not acceptable is doing it and then asking the ref for a penalty like Ronaldo, Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez, Luiz Suares to name a few, do time and time again.
So. What's is your problem? A last chance to down the legend and the greatest football player of all time to win the ballon d'or on the 7th of January2013? Good luck for this try. But one thing is clear, you have mentioned it, he has at least four or five flaws during his career, I can name five more starting from 2004/05. The point is that this is very marginal compared to what other characters do....for example, Ronaldo,....he is reputed for diving, his arrogance and for his egocentric character while Messi has been very simplistic and humble boy since day 1. Ronaldo is filled with arrogance about what he is. A note on your "angelic character", you must be kept informed about what has he has done to the referee in a match against Arsenal. And what is he doing in England nowadays as football manager.
MILLION DIVES BY Penaldo, THIS IS WHAT A DIVER MAKES. ONE YEAR OF YOUTUBE VIEWS, I STILL COULDN'T FINISH WATCHING HOW MANY TIMES Penaldo DIVES NOTHING AND EVERYTHING. YOUTUBE: - Cristiano Ronaldo dives compilation - Cristiano Ronaldo Diving Manual - Part 1 - Cristiano Ronaldo Diving Manual - Part 2 - Cristiano Ronaldo Diving Manual - Part 3 - Ronaldo worst dive ever Real Madrid vs. AC Milan Champions league 2010 - Cristiano Ronaldo Dive vs Sevilla - Cristiano Ronaldo dive Vs Valencia (1) - Cristiano Ronaldo dive Vs Valencia (2) - Cristano Ronaldo "never dives" (Spoof) - Cristiano Ronaldo dive Vs Sevilla (3) - Christiano Ronaldo the born diver - Ronaldo The Cheat - Ronaldo is a cheater - Cristiano Ronaldo dive Vs Albania - REAL MADRID VS VALENCIA / DIVE COMPILATION / ronaldo di maria ozil - Cristiano Ronaldo dive Vs Real Mallorca - Cristiano Ronaldo DIVE FOR PENALTY [Sevilla 1 - 0 Real Madrid] - Cristiano Ronaldo dive Vs Tottenham Hotspurs (3
Gov, Thanks for your comment! Yes, Ronaldo has dived. Many players have. Even though he has cheated MUCH fewer times than other players, Messi is still guilty of going down too easily on some occasions. He is not as perfect as many people perceive him to be, that's all I'm trying to say.
yes ,he is a human,and human do make mistake,because they are not perfect..but the point is how many times he made that same mistake,i don't think there is any other player in this soccer world try to stay on his feet after several rough challenges either it is in penalty box or outside penalty box..may be once or twice he dived,but it was definately not for getting advantage,it's for saving himself from that reckless challenge,,i am Messi fan,so there is no meaning of my justification,and also i am not a friend of Messi,so,i can't tell he is arrogant or not,but by hearing the football world you can definately say that he is a down to earth guy.friendly hug a fan during a match,friendly hand shake with a fan during an international match is very rare on a football pitch...Sorry to say that,By your article you crying louder that you are a penaldo fan,that means you have to write something bad for Messi..
Football is meant for man not for angel or prophets. Messi is a man but a unique one when it comes to sportsmanship,all your analysis here say your mind that, you're trying to tell us that his overrated with sweet caption and his not in anyway overrated. Because doing what they've not done will rate you more than the others, Messi an angelic footballer not an angelic man.
Messi is human, is the best in the world and is very great person! We draw portraits from pictures and we did all Portraits of the Barça´s team, all players looka at it, and just Messi bough the portrait, this it means he has a good heart. If you want to see some of the Portratits we did see this blog or the web of the blog: Many thanks.
Messi is not an angel but he never made the same mistake twice. He doesn't take after Maradona whatsoever. He has proved for so many years now that his mentality is so strong that even Christiano wishes he had . Your article just prove how much you dislike messi. Digging all the dirts all those years must be tough on you since he doesn't have any now.
gii, You probably didn't read the entire article. I love Messi as much as anyone.
that is three minutes of my time poorly spent..

Pingback: Buzz Hollywood: Celebrity News and Gossip: Lionel Messi is Human – Forbes India (blog)

not a fan of messi, but i do like him.But calling a diver really twlls me how littlw you know of him. Judging him from a veryyyyyyyyy few if not couple attempts to fool the ref does not make him a diver.
@ Will, you're correct: he is not a diver and that's exactly what I said. The problem is that he has dived and on more than one occasion. All the top players have. Gary Neville's excellent analysis of diving in football highlights this:
I don't know that anybody turns a blind eye to Messi's sins. The fact that people have to go through 6 years of footage to dig up a handful of unsportsmanlike behaviors speaks numbers - especially considering the disproportionate number of fouls and physical pressures he faces in each game given his skills and position compared to a winger like Cristiano. How many players will opt to rescind their own goal if they know they were offside but it wasn't called? Or have refused to take a PK when they've tripped over themselves in the box but were granted a foul? Messi handballed a goal and got away with it. I'm not proud of the man for doing it, but it's no worse than taking a shot when you know you were offside. Players do what they believe they need to in order to win. So no, he's not a saint, but he's proven himself to be a great sportsman particularly under the pressures he routinely faces. And while I don't hate Cristiano, I don't know many people who could defend his theatrics when he'd first came over from the EPL. He has gotten *a lot* better, and I've actually found myself really enjoying watching him play, but the reality is Messi dives less and produces more. He deserves to be the standard of footballer for kids getting into the game.
Excellent post, Josh. There have been exemplary instances of fair play in football. Remember Paolo di Canio catching the ball when he could have scored? It's a results based industry and you're right: players will do whatever it takes to win and history remembers winners. What I ask for, though, is consistency when judging footballers. If people want to go back 6 years for his incredible goal against Getafe, then they should also remember the hand-ball goal against Espanyol.
Shravan Bhat
I've lived in Singapore, London, Hong Kong, Bangalore, Birmingham, Frankfurt (Oder) and now Mumbai. After studying Business & International Relations at Aston University and the European University Viadrina, I joined Forbes India Magazine. I love writing about young people and I'm particularly interested in sports entrepreneurs, restaurateurs and people who use data to make the world simpler.
Most Popular
Shravan Bhat's Activity Feed
November 05, 2014 12:59 pm by enzo karter
Commented on Lionel Messi is Human
The Russian football team manager Fabio Capello says that the captain of Argentina team, Lionel Messi is more skillful than the famous soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo.
May 10, 2013 06:23 am by Ramon
Commented on Lionel Messi is Human
Messi is human, is the best in the world and is very great person! We draw portraits from pictures and we did all Portraits of the Barça´s team, all players looka at it, and just Messi bough the portrait, this it means he has a good heart. If you want to see some of the Portratits we did see this ...
January 05, 2013 03:21 am by Azhar
Commented on Lionel Messi is Human
Forgive and Forget :)
January 04, 2013 11:37 am by Shravan Bhat
Commented on Lionel Messi is Human
Yes, Azhar, I am a Ronaldo fan! But I'm also a Messi fan. And an Arsenal fan. And a Mario Balotelli fan. Am I not allowed to be a fan of more than one player / team?
January 04, 2013 03:41 am by Nuri
Commented on Lionel Messi is Human
I would not necessarily judge Ronaldo for his behavior on the field, but rather outside it. When getting his record 91 goals in a year Messi said something along the lines of "I am very happy with my record, but winning for the team is still more important". Every time after winning his three (and h...