There was a documentary on Netflix before the start of the 2022 World Cup called FIFA uncovered. It was a really interesting watch, and it showed you how things work behind the scenes at FIFA. In 1998, when Sepp Blatter was running for the presidency, he was short on votes, so he decided to pull the votes from the African Federation, by promising their president at the time, who was South African, that he will one day bring the World Cup to South Africa. Blatter eventually became FIFA President, and fast forward to 2010, the World Cup was indeed held in South Africa, and not for the reasons he gave; that football is for everyone and its a global sport, but because he had to repay a debt. That documentary certainly opened my eyes to the fact that FIFA was a dictatorship, and Blatter especially, was the dictator who always got what he wanted. So ask yourself this question; if FIFA had the power to manufacture a player who would be the face of the sport as its greatest ever player, who would it be?
Lionel Messi is a good boy that every father and every mother would like to take home — Sepp Blatter (2013)
In 2013, during an open forum, Blatter was asked to compare between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. He lavished praise on Messi, calling him a good boy… yes a good boy! And he then proceeded to stand up and mock Ronaldo, calling him a commander on the field, and doing a silly march. It was clear a long time ago that there was a favorite not just within FIFA, but with the head of the organization.
I love sports, and I respect the figures who made their respective sport even bigger than it is, with their talent, their drive in overcoming challenges, and superiority over the rest of the athletes in their respective sports. Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Maradona, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant, they all faced struggles, they faced criticism, and at times it was a “me against the world” mentality for them. That's what separated them from the rest. Kobe is the best example, he was probably the most hated player in his prime, getting booed by opposition fans every single game. He even had a famous commercial talking about the hate that he receives and how he wants more cause it made him stronger. The hate was at its peak when Shaq won a championship in Miami, and everyone was saying that Shaq was better than Kobe, and that he can’t win without Shaq. But Kobe kept grinding, until he won back-to-back championships without Shaq. When Tom Brady left the Patriots and went to Tampa Bay, everyone said he’s not gonna do anything because it was the Patriots system and the coach that made him great. But Brady won them the Superbowl! The greats face challenges and they shine the most when the odds are against them.
When Messi faced criticism with Argentina, he quit. When he was faced with difficulties in Barca, he quit. When he was booed by his own fans at PSG, he quit. He recently complained about his time at PSG, about the environment at the club, problems in the locker room, and how it was difficult to work through it. You weakling! That is normal struggles that every player naturally goes through and overcome in their career. He was complaining because it wasn’t as easy as he always had it his whole career in Barca. But that was the first time for him experiencing a new challenge, he was always spoon fed in Barca, he had his feet up in his comfort zone, and it was enough to call that a career. I wonder who may have had a role in shaping that philosophy to always choose the easy option…
GURANTEE A WIN, SHY AWAY FROM CHALLENGES
Look at the above image and tell me how impressed are you by it. The moment I saw it I frowned and did some research cause I did not find it impressive and I will tell you why; he comes 1st, 2nd, 3rd with teams that already finish in those positions with or without him! Where is the accomplishment? Hell, Bayern and Barca are the current defending champions of their leagues! If you just coach winners you are gonna end up a winner! Jose Mourinho, just took Roma to back to back European finals! Won the Champions League with Porto! Won the treble with Inter Milan, and overcame Pep’s Barcelona with Samuel Eto’o as his right back! That is impressive! That is what separates GOATS from sheep! They face insurmountable challenges head on, and always find a way to overcome them. Winning the league with Bayern Munich is not a challenge. Spending 1 billion Dollars and getting the best young striker to finally win the Champions League is not a challenge. Pep and his student (Messi) both adopted the same philosophy throughout their careers; avoid challenges, and put yourself in winning situations, so that you can guarantee a win. Messi remained in the same league where he was almost guaranteed a trophy every year. Lets be honest, apart from the odd season where Atletico Madrid shine, the Copa Del Rey and La Liga is always between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Messi then left Barca to join a team that won the French league 9 of the past 11 seasons! At the same time that Ronaldo went back to his old club to take up the challenge of helping them rebuild, Messi went to PSG to collect more trophies. That’s the Guardiola — Messi philosophy, pick the easy option.
Maradona, who I consider as the GOAT, faced challenges that were put in front of him, some of them from his own making, and he put on a career that will never be replicated. He joined Napoli in the 80's, a team languishing at the bottom of Serie A, and he won them 2 titles, and a European title. The context of that 2nd Serie A title win is massive, it was during the era of AC Milan giants. They had Van Basten, Rijkaard, Gullit, Baresi, they were dominating Europe winning Champions League after Champions League. And Maradona beat that team to win the league! That for me is more impressive than anything that Messi, or any player has ever done.
Messi spent nearly the entirety of his career in one club, in one system, against the same playing style. When he was faced with a challenge (Barca’s Spanish core left) he took up the mantle, he took the captains armband, grabbed the mic and pledged that “the Champions League will return to the Camp Nou.” and this is what happened when he faced that challenge head on…
Following his Barca exit Messi went to PSG, a team that reached the Champions League final the previous year, a team consisting of the best young player in the world, and a former teammate, and he couldn’t even score a single knockout stage goal for them! And people were wondering why PSG fans booed him. Sorry they didn’t just boo him, they protested to get him out of the club! And that was his first experience outside his comfort zone of Barcelona.
“Well, adapting to the new club, to a new way of playing, to my new teammates, to the city at first was very difficult for me and my whole family.”
That is a quote by Messi around the time he left PSG, he is admitting himself that he cannot play in a different system that he is not used to, and with new teammates. But nobody cared about that, they all brushed it under the rug with all his other failures and forgot about it. But at least he found that out and didn’t want to make the same mistake twice, so he made sure to go to an easy league where he just won a trophy against a team from a state that is famous for having the best fried chicken, and he brought more former teammates with him to Inter Miami in Busquets and Jordi Alba, so he can better adapt to the barbarous challenges of Major League Soccer.
The struggle is part of your legacy
The first image above is of Basketball great Charles Barkley during an interview when he was asked to compare Lebron and Jordan. He said that what separates Jordan as the GOAT is that he had to struggle, he had to fail to reach the top, but Lebron always looks for help, and stacks his team with great players. The caption on that still image encapsulates what Barkley was saying, “the struggle is part of your legacy”. The image below that is of Jose Mourinho in 2013, describing how easy Messi has it compared to Ronaldo. Messi grew up in the Barca system since he was 13 and entered the first team straight at the top, on the shoulders of Ronaldinho, Xavi, Iniesta, Deco, Eto’o and so many other greats. Where is the struggle in that?
So many players challenged themselves, to try different leagues, and some of them failed in that quest, but you respect the fact that they tried. Kaka was world class with AC Milan, but he wasn't the same when he went to Real Madrid. Ronaldinho was on top of the world with Barca, but he went to AC Milan and he was not the same player. Messi meanwhile got away with it, he went to PSG, he failed, but he did it so late in his career that nobody cared. He got away with it!
FAVORITISM & BIAS
The favoritism between the 2 players is clear and evident not just with FIFA, but with the media coverage as well. Search for the ways that ESPN cover a Ronaldo story in comparison with a Messi story, and this is supposed to be a respectable, unbiased sports media outlet, but trust me you will be surprised. No joke, one of their recent tweets about Ronaldo, which was made in a negative way was actually flagged because what they said was a lie!
The manipulation of stats to favor Messi has been rife more than ever since he went to PSG. He scored just 6 goals in his first season, but got a lot more assists, so a new stat was created to make him look good; G/A, you add the goals and assists together so that the number can be bigger. Penalty goals became “evil” since Ronaldo was scoring a lot of them, and they are sometimes not counted by fans and media outlets in a stat called “non-penalty goals”. I’m stating the obvious but non-penalty goals was never used in the 2022 World Cup, because of course, getting a record 5 penalties in 7 games made Messi the greatest of all time, so penalties became good again.
Messi has always been protected by the media, pundits, and FIFA. During a champions league pregame show, the presenter mentioned Cristiano “Ronaldo” and Thierry Henry went on a rant out of nowhere, completely off topic on how there is only one Ronaldo, the Brazilian Ronaldo, and Cristiano should not be called by that name. That's fine, I respect that opinion, Brazilian Ronaldo is probably better, but where and why did that come from?! That was never the topic but he just found an opportunity to disparage Ronaldo and he decided to take it. Fast forward a few months, during the warmups before a PSG game at their home stadium, the PSG fans booed when they announced Messi’s name in the stadium. Its their team they have the right to boo and cheer whoever they want. But guess who hid his balls between his legs and immediately jumped to his defence? Yes, Thierry Henry! Emotional, almost about to cry, he came to his defence saying that he shouldn’t be treated that way. I loved Henry, but I lost all respect for him after that.
As I write this, UEFA just announced the top 3 nominees for player of the year and I’m not surprised that Messi is there. The award is for the best player in Europe, Haaland and De Bruyne, the other two nominees won the treble, including the Champions League. In Europe, Messi did shit. But they are justifying his selection by saying the World Cup is counted. But, Lionel Scaloni is not nominated for coach of the year. Kylian Mbappe, the World Cup top scorer, is not in the top 5. The World Cup doesn't seem to be an important factor for anyone except Messi. And with the constant daily reminders on social media of Messi with the World Cup trophy, it kinda feels as if Messi is the only player in history to win the World Cup. If you have been following these individual awards over the years, the criteria is always different for Messi. Its whatever stat or trophy that makes Messi the frontrunner, will be used as the main criteria for the individual award.
A HELPING HAND
Going back to the FIFA documentary I mentioned in the beginning, it focused also on the World Cup bids of Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. Without blatantly saying it, it was implied that those two bids were bought. After I finished that documentary, I had a weird, horrible feeling that there was only one thing that was gonna happen in Qatar. If they bought the rights to host it, they can easily buy who wins it, and seeing those two quotes above just cemented that feeling. How can the host country, and the organization that is holding the event single out one player that they want to win? Like I said at the start, FIFA is a dictatorship, and dictatorships always get what they want. There was only going to be one winner, and I actually placed a bet on him once I saw the two quotes above, so I made some money out of it. There was only going to be one person whom FIFA wanted to win in order to claim him as the GOAT. Someone who is not a drug addict like Maradona, or a commander like Ronaldo, but rather someone “that every father and every mother would like to take home”. If FIFA had the chance to manufacture a GOAT themselves, someone who they can proudly parade, be their poster boy, and shower with gifts and trophies, it would be “good boy” Lionel Messi.