Argentine Lionel Messi has been crowned the best soccer player in the last four years by FIFA, and is considered by many the best of all time. His historical competition with other greats such as Pele, Maradona or Cruyff is seeing the balance quickly tilt in his favor, as every game he plays becomes yet another proof of how critical Messi is both for Barcelona and Argentina.
But how does Lionel Messi compare to the rest of Hispanic athletes in other disciplines?
It’s, of course, tough to compare performances between different sports, and even more between individual sports and players who shine in team sports, but we can at least try to find similar factors in order to determine who is the top Hispanic athlete of all time.
Barcelona’s standout has been key in the last 5 years of success the Cule side has had. He’s been the leader of a team full of top quality players, including 9 World Cup champions with Spain, but above them all, Messi has reigned supreme and consistently showed up in the toughest of times.
With the Catalanas, Messi has won 6 Spanish Leagues, 6 Spanish Super Cups, 3 Champions Leagues, 2 European Super Cups and 2 FIFA World Club competitions. Individually, the Argentine adds to his resume achievements such as the 4 aforementioned Golden Ball awards, plus he was chosen the Best Player in Europe by UEFA in 2011, and has won 4 Champions League tops scorer and 3 Spanish La Liga top scorer awards.
While his accomplishments on the pitch are impressive, they still fall short of describing what he really represents. Perhaps, the best way to describe that is to take a look back at the game Barcelona played last year against Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League.
Barcelona was up 1-0 at half time in the first leg of the series, when Messi fell injured with a pulled groin. He was subbed out and could not partake in the second half. The game finished with a 2-2 tie on the scoreboard, leaving all to be decided in the next match.
The bad part was that the next match would take place just a week later, and Lionel Messi would not be able to start given his injury.
PSG played a great first half and managed to get ahead on the scoreboard with a goal by Pastore at the 50th minute. Messi, visibly still injured and barely being able to run, jumped on the pitch 12 minutes later, and there was a sort of whisper around the stadium that seemed to signal that changing of the winds.
His sole presence on the field made PSG take a few steps back and seriously start fearing for their chances to qualify. Lionel Messi was limping, could barely move, but every ball he touched would make his opponents clamp up, forget how to play, start to tremble. This gave way to a single pass by the Argentine, just 9 minutes after stepping on the field, which allowed Pedro to tie the match and seal Barca’s qualification to the next round.
That sense of uniqueness, that aura that follows Lio and that announces that anything –really– can happen when he is around, is something Rafa Nadal, Manu Ginobili, Miguel Cabrera, or Julio Cesar Chavez do not possess. That’s exactly what make Messi so special and, perhaps, the best Hispanic athlete of all time.