Messi the Untouchable
Messi's unbreakable spirit makes him untouchable
It isn't the mountains that wear you out, it's the pebble in your shoe.
Muhammad Ali said that. He usually had a quote for this kind of stuff. The greatest always do.
They know that sporting immortality isn't about the journey, but the obstacles.
Lionel Messi clears mountains like Hannibal clearing the Alps. It's in the job description, a walk in the park, the identikit of every off-the-peg genius.
The pebbles are the real stepping stones, the excruciating, insufferable hurdles on the way to the pantheon.
Against Real Madrid yesterday morning (Singapore time), Messi had three, arguably, four pebbles in his boots, each one an irritating impediment to success.
Two of them came with a name. Sergio Ramos and Marcelo, partners in Real's defence, partners in crime against Messi, shared a common goal. They came to maim.
Ramos brought the raised studs. Marcelo armed himself with a crafty elbow.
Both targeted the only one who truly terrified, the otherworldly one.
Marcelo went first. In the 20th minute of the most intoxicating Clasico in recent memory, his elbow found Messi's teeth, knocking one of them out.
The Brazilian cried "accidental", but his sly glance towards the linesman betrayed him. He knew what he was doing.
“Messi is decisive even when he is at home having dinner. He is the best player in history.”Barcelona coach Luis Enrique on Lionel Messi
Blood filled Messi's mouth as the Argentinian realised his teeth were no longer all present and correct. He neither chased Marcelo nor the referee. He tasted blood and realigned his objectives.
He would carry Barcelona upon his shoulders.
He would silently remind the world why he's the greatest of all time, that his beauty comes from the beast within.
“God is back and has a name... Messi.”Former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o on Messi
From a scrawny kid in Barcelona's youth academy to Clasico colossus, Messi has long raged against the machines around him. But the rage is always internalised, compartmentalised and directed towards the penalty box.
Messi slaughters opponents, not referees.
He left blood on the Bernabeu dancefloor, swinging and sashaying towards a game-winning brace and a career-defining 500th goal for Barcelona in a 3-2 win.
In achieving victory, he dealt with the other "pebbles", a slowing, declining side and a back four utterly incapable of keeping a clean sheet.
So he won the match on his own. He bent the Bernabeu to his will.
“There is still a long way, but we left with the joy of having taken an important step.”Messi in a Facebook post
Real recognised that only Messi stood between them and an early La Liga title triumph, a one-man orchestra capable of silencing a city.
So Ramos tried to cut the legend into two. Studs up, conscience down, the violent intent was obvious. Ramos missed his target, but saw red nonetheless.
They all did. Messi infuriated Madrid.
The hosts lost to a shadow, a trick of the eye, an impish, scuttling freak of endless creativity.
When Messi is this ridiculously perfect and tireless, he looks like the weird offspring of Pablo Picasso and the pink Duracell Bunny, an artist that just won't quit.
His winner in stoppage time saw off all pretenders to his crown, if further confirmation was even needed. He's the best because he's the most battered, but refuses to stay down.
Instead, he becomes an avenging superhero, as if blessed with a deflector shield that somehow turns his opponents' violence into goals against them.
A previous fixture left him with a black eye. Marcelo's elbow made a bloody mess. Ramos came, saw and cocked up his cynical foul.
And still, Messi prevailed.
The injury-prone Gareth Bale didn't make it to half-time. Cristiano Ronaldo loses his head at a marginal offside decision. Messi lost a tooth and still kept his head. He always has.
His brilliance got him into the Barcelona first team. His unbreakable spirit made him untouchable.
The Argentinian's astonishing performance in Madrid was particularly poignant as it might eventually be remembered as the first stop on a lengthy farewell tour.
The last, unavoidable pebble, the biggest nuisance of them all, is time itself.
Messi turns 30 in June and Barcelona's band is slowly breaking up.
Ironically, the older he gets, the more his declining side may call upon him to dominate tight contests.
He'll continue to accept the challenge, quietly and gracefully, as long as the flesh is willing. The mind will never be weak.
Real's mistake was seeing only the wizard and not the warrior, foolishly drawing first blood. It was a fatal mistake.
When Messi bleeds, he leads.