There is broad consensus amongst football enthusiasts that the 2018 Ballon d’Or has etched a special mark in history.
One, it saw the introduction of Ballon d'Or Féminin, essentially the women’s Ballon d’Or. Two, the twerk blooper by DJ Martin Solveig made a dreadful mess of the inaugural Ballon d'Or Féminin. Three, the placement of Luca Modric at the top of the ranking upset the decade long Messi-Ronaldo status quo.
For Messi, a five time Ballon d’Or winner, to emerge fifth in 2018’s ranking felt like the end of an era. It is perhaps a development that necessitates an updated version of Luca Ciaoli’s book, Messi – More than a superstar. Reading this book, one cannot help but empathise with a player who has had a sterling yet seemingly unaccomplished career. Chapter 16, titled Leo and Diego, starts with a comparison of goals scored by Messi and football legend Diego Maradona in April 2017 and June 1986, respectively. With so many similarities, some commentators ask Messi whether he sought to imitate Maradona. It is an indication of the degree to which even at his finest, Messi’s skill, rightly or wrongly, remains diminished by Maradona’s towering shadow.
Chapter 35, titled The curse of number 10, could not have been scripted better in capturing the twin occurrence of greatness and unaccomplishment in Messi’s career. The author states that the recurrent Ballon d’Or winner is yet to take home a title with La Albiceleste, the national team.
Sadly, Messi’s only trophy wins with Argentina are the 2005 FIFA Under 20 World Cup and the 2008 Olympic gold medal in Beijing. In stark contrast, the 1986 FIFA World Cup is widely referred to as “Maradona’s World Cup” and that makes all the difference.
The seeming anticlimax notwithstanding, perhaps Messi’s capacity of being more than a super star, as the book is titled, is qualified by his composure and modesty despite being one of history’s greatest footballers. This is one thing even his most vicious critics, Maradona devotees, cannot take away from him.
Nothing brings this to the fore more than Maradona’s reaction to the comparisons between the goal he scored on June 22, 1986 and the one Messi scored on April 18, 2007, both of which have since been termed “foot of gold”. Maradona goes ahead to say the comparison between the two goals is exaggerated and that his was “more beautiful” and “scored in a World cup”.
Messi on the other hand is graceful in responding to parallels drawn between him and Maradona and even refers to him as “the greatest” in Chapter 31of the book.
American baseball great, Cal Ripken Jr, once said that sometimes sportsmanship is forgotten in the search for individual attention and his ability to not fall prey to this is Messi’s true greatness.