By John Cartwright
The other night I saw Lionel Messi score 5 goals in a EURO Championship game for Barcelona against Bayer Levekusen. Following the transmission of this game a documentary was screened about Messi, and it included film of him playing when a boy of 7 years of age. The footage showing Messi playing as a youngster reflected exactly how he now plays as a senior; the ability to run with the ball; beat opponents and score goals exactly like those I had just watched him score against the Germans. From a child footballer to become the greatest player on the Planet is not luck; there has to be several important decisions made about him that allowed this progression to happen.
How did Messi acquire the playing vision to become the type of player he is? Who was his playing idol – was it Maradona? Whilst he was growing up, how did he overcome the negative comments and advice that he would have received when his skills and tactical awareness might not always have been correctly applied? How was this ‘junior football genius’ allowed to continue through the ‘minefield’ of ‘expert’ opinion to become the talented ‘total footballer’ he is today? These are all questions that need careful consideration, for Messi has developed from Argentina streets to the finest stadiums of the world.
There are two periods that reflect important times in Messi’s development; the beginning, in the streets and in junior football, and during his time at Barcelona’s academy. In both these periods, either his strength of will or the brilliant perception on the part of his tutors, or a combination of both of these, enabled Messi to progress his skills and game understanding whilst awaiting for physical maturity to develop. In each of the periods, those involved with him during match-play must have seen the playing quality he possessed and were ultra careful not to derail it by demanding less from him when he failed to deliver as he probably did on many occasions. The introduction of Messi into competitive match-play as a young boy should be scrutinized for it would tell us much about the practice/playing that occurred during those early days followed by his elevation into more senior kids football in Argentina. This onward and upward playing transition did not seem to thwart his individualistic approach to the game and when he arrived at Barcelona, this individualistic approach he had was not disturbed once again.
Could the same situation involving such a talented youngster as Messi occur here? I don’t think so. Our development infrastructure is established on academic, age defined teaching methods that breeds conformity and not players with individualistic creativity. I have seen youngsters here who, with a better introduction into the game followed by more astute and careful progression through to senior football, could have become exciting players. Unfortunately, for them and for us, our development methods produce mediocre individual standards of ability and this provides mediocre playing standards for our game.
Every coach and player, young and older, should have seen both Messi’s goals-scoring brilliance the other evening at the Nou Camp as well as later in the documentary when playing on the dusty pitches in Argentina as a kid – EVERYTHING WAS THE SAME!…… Messi has been ….. ALLOWED TO BECOME ‘GREAT’!!