Shortly after earning a place in my Contemporary XI, Leo Messi popped up and scored the best goal of the 21st century thus far.
There’s a great column by my favorite soccer writer, Phil Ball, over at Soccernet. Ball writes about the Spanish league, and captures the culture around the game in Spain brilliantly. I particularly like his view of Messi as “a funny little chap with a child’s face and an attractively modest manner.” That modesty is evident in his interviews, and means that no one feels guilty about celebrating his tremendous goal, as they probably would if it had been scored by someone like Marco Materazzi.
Messi first caught my eye in 2005, while playing for the Argentina U-18 in the Youth World Cup. He dominated the tournament with his close control, blazing pace and pinpoint shooting, despite looking like one of the youngest kids there. Shortly after, he broke into Barcelona’s first team, and only a few months later was tormenting Chelsea’s expensively assembled squad in the Champions League. He exposed left back Asier Del Horno to such a degree that he was shipped out after only one season.
With less physical presence and tricks than Christiano Ronaldo, he is nevertheless younger, and equally hard to contain. He should set the football world alight for years to come.