A sportsperson with an artistic streak

Just before this World Cup, history weighed heavily on the slender shoulders of Lionel Messi. Despite scoring numerous goals for Barcelona and winning four Ballon’d’Or awards in a row, Messi was still a long way from being a hero for the Argentines. A Barcelona great, yes. A footballer with wonderful set of skills, yes. A revered and adored hero at home like Diego Maradona, short by a good distance. Maradona, a player of sublime abilities, had built his reputation around his heroics in the 1986 World Cup, but Messi lacked that one magic moment in the biggest stage for a footballer. 

He had socred one goal in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and went goalless four years later in South Africa as Argentina too bowed out without making any impression. Messi wouldn’t have happy with that. It wasn’t just a private grief, but an entire nation might have felt letdown by his spiritless show in the World Cup. After all, it’s painful to see a rare talent not delivering at the grandest stage. 

Brazil offered him, in all likelihood, one last chance for redemption. This time Messi has Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria for company upfront. But as the tournament progressed Messi might have felt increasingly alone. Aguero has gone back home with an injury, while Higuain and di Maria have been woefully off target, sweelling the pressure on Messi to score goals or make assists, forcing him to be a soloist in a team game. In a strange way, that high-pressure situation helped Messi, and his four goals thus far exemplify that. 

No other game showed Messi’s desperation to leave his mark on the biggest footballing stage on the planet than the one against Nigeria. Argentina had already sealed their place in the round of 16, and he could have taken that match a bit easy and preserved himself for the sterner tests ahead. However, Messi floored Nigeria with a show of his awesome genius -- scoring two goals. First goal was first-time volley into the top of net, and second was a stunning free-kick that left hordes of Nigerian defenders and goalkeeper a group of embarassing onlookers. 

It was enjoyable, of course. But another thought entered my mind while watching Messi unleashing his brilliance. He had done better for Barecelona in the past, so he can better this effort against Nigeria against other bigger teams. It’s a tantalising thought that has prompted me to wait anxiously for Argentina’s next match, and the Albiceleste have not invoked that kind of feeling after the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. One man, Messi, has been responsible for that. 

True, sport is no art, but sportspersons with an artistic streak in them have mesmerised us in the past with their craft. Roger Federer, Shane Warne and Muhammad Ali have enthralled us, combining beauty with skill at the highest level and Messi is the latest entrant into that artist-athlete club. 

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