Pep Guardiola once famously said of Lionel Messi: “Don’t write about him. Don’t try to describe him. Just watch him.” Almost every element of The Messi Experience® – even the most straightforward bits – eventually win over the observer.
His stature is unassuming. Even after packing on more of a muscular build over the past half-dozen years, Messi still stands just five-foot-seven and at about 160 pounds. Then there is the demeanor. Messi doesn’t immediately invoke images of the maniacal sociopath we’ve come to associate with athletic greatness.
In fact, he seems like an approachable, nonchalant, almost detached guy. He doesn’t seem overly preoccupied with the task at hand – until, of course, until the precise moment that his team needs a stone cold closer. All the sudden his eyes seem to turn black, and he executes with what appears to be effortless precision.
Mere words – even the most emphatic superlatives – feel insufficient in describing his undeniable talent. How do we sum up the experience of watching – for more than 15 years – the smallest guy on the pitch combine his astounding physical gifts with a truly singular, savant-like understanding of the timing, spacing and angles, to make an absolute mockery of the world’s most popular sport in such a simplistic and elegantly orchestrated fashion.His talent is recognized by even the greatest of legends. Diego Maradona is quoted as saying, “I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi. Messi is a genius.”
There’s no one stat, highlight or anecdote that truly does the trick. That being said, we would like to share our own reflections. Since his promotion to Barcelona’s first team in the 2004-05 season and Argentina’s senior team in 2005, Messi has played 951 official games for club and country. On 54 of these occasions – or roughly 5.7% of the time – he’s scored at least three goals. In total, he’s scored an amazing 761 goals.
Strip out the 54 most productive outings of his senior career, and Messi’s club-and-country goal count still rivals those of Thierry Henry, Alan Shearer, Samuel Eto’o, Brazilian Ronaldo and Madrid legend Raúl.
We have tried to analyze all 54 Messi hat tricks, and pick the best of the bunch. It is, if nothing else, a delightful way to descend down a rabbithole of “best evers.” Sometimes the sheer critical mass is the thing that matters in the end – that one man has been able to do all of this is more astounding than any one of the mind-bending components that make up the whole.
El Clásico is a perfect exhibit. The March 10, 2007 match between Spain’s eternal rivals had real stakes. Two-thirds of the way through the 2006-07 season, Barcelona was battling Sevilla at the top of the league table. Madrid, having shaken off a brutal midseason stretch and climbing up to four in the rankings – would go on to become league champions. It’s against this backdrop Los Blancos made their annual visit to Camp Nou. What ensued was one of the most iconic Clásicos in modern times.
Just five minutes in, Ruud van Nistelrooy puts Madrid a goal. Roughly six minutes later, Samuel Eto’o plays a perfect ball into the right side of the box from about 25 yards out. There to meet it, all alone, is a 19-year-old Messi, at the time wearing #19. Leo takes a touch and lets the ball run before rifling it past a charging Iker Casillas into the bottom left. Never has an individual more succinctly nutshelled the decade-and-a-half that was to come.
Just two minutes later, a Van Nistelrooy penalty puts Madrid ahead again. Fourteen minutes after that, Ronaldinho attacks the Madrid box from the left and thumps a shot from six yards out off of Casillas. The rebound ricochets to the right, where Messi is waiting. With Casillas and the defense scrambling to regain position, Leo pounces, and thumps the ball into the roof of the net from just inside the spot of his first goal.
With seventeen minutes remaining, Sergio Ramos – you just knew he’d be involved – puts Madrid ahead yet again. He, too, is undone by Messi, who, this time in the 90th, receives a Ronaldinho pass about 25 yards out. After an initial touch, he and the ball are smack in the middle of four Blancos. Leo immediately eliminates any danger by simply flying past two of them and leaving another sprawling outside the box, before firing from the left, past a diving Ramos and a diving Casillas, into the bottom right corner. The strike salvaged a point and, equally importantly (at the time, at least), deprived Real Madrid of all three.
As far as opening salvos go, this is obscenity. Three inch-perfect finishes, in a classic game against a superstar-laden arch-rival, as a teenager. The finishes for the first two goals are fantastic, but the third is the pick of the bunch, featuring speed and acceleration, power and precision in the finish, coming at a vital moment… and leaving Sergio Ramos in a compromising position. What a way to come of age.
Any number of performances are deemed “quintessential Messi” and affixed with the “virtuoso” label. Every one of them deserves it. However, contemplate what it is that makes Messi, Messi and you’ll arrive at the moment when he showed us not only his preternatural gift for sensing time, space and pace in the flow of a game, but also the ability to simultaneously live up to the biggest moments.
Join us in celebrating this one of a kind legend.
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