The term “underrated” is a strange one and gets branded and thrown around all the time these days. It’s become some sort of hip term to describe any player who doesn’t seem to get the love and acclaim the rest of his team get. “Oh Mark Noble he’s so underrated” can be heard regularly from the voices of the many West Ham fans who call the various football phone- ins. However I’m going to present a case that the Worlds most underrated player is not Noble nor John Obi Mikel or whoever is being argued today but is instead one Lionel Messi. Bear with me.
Now how can a 4 time Ballon d’Or winner be underrated I hear you shout, spitting out your morning coffee in disgust. Well, in short I don’t think people realise how remarkable a player he is and how bloody exceptional he is. Before we begin I’ll try to not go down the whole Messi vs Ronaldo debate or where he ranks among the games greats because let’s face it we are all fed up of that.
For a start simply glancing at the man’s stats shows what an impact he’s made over the years. In 553 career games he’s racked up a quite astonishing 432 goals and crucially for this article, 171 assists. Just let that sink in. 171 assists. Now throughout football history there’s been players who have posted similar numbers to Messi in terms of goal scoring such as Gerd Muller, Thierry Henry to an extent and at the risk of bringing up the debate Cristiano Ronaldo. However to create 171 assists to go with those goals is nothing short of extraordinary. Bearing in mind when you consider how many chances Messi may create only for team mates to miss or have saved brings home how impressive a feat this is.
And it is this which in my opinion makes Leo “underrated”. When people think of Messi they think of the goals, the dribbles, the unbelievable solo efforts not the defence splitting passes. When you compare these numbers to midfielders known for their passing, Leo still comes out on top. The likes of Lampard, Gerrard, Xavi and Iniesta have all had less career assists than the man who is still only coming up for 28. Messi is already both the top scorer in La Liga history as well as the man with the most assists. If ever there was a game to best indicate this often overlooked attribute of Messi’s, Sunday’s game against Athletic Bilbao at the San Mames must be close to perfection.
Messi produced a performance of the ages despite scoring just the once. His touch, vision and passing were simply exquisite producing some moments of sheer magic. Had the finishing of his teammates been better, Leo could well have had at least three assists. The movement and interchanging of what must be the world’s most dangerous strike force in Neymar, Suarez and Messi was too much for a good Bilbao side to handle. Credit must go to Luis Enrique whose shifting of Messi back to the right hand side of the attack, where he began his career, has definitely brought the best out of him.
Messi drifting in from the right, almost like a free role, has been devastating with the little Argentine racking up 10 goals and 5 assists in 2015 alone. Since the embarrassment of losing to David Moyes’s Real Sociedad, Barca have been in imperious form, winning every game and could be on the cusp of a special end of the season. These next few months could be very interesting for Messi and co and it remains to be seen how long they can keep such form up but with Man City’s suspect defence looming you have to imagine Messi will be licking his lips.
In the meantime I suggest one thing, savour every minute of this little genius of a player. Yes he may be defensively appalling or be missing the style, looks and athleticism of Cristiano but my word on the ball he is a joy to behold. His touch and the effortlessness to which he plays is extraordinary and forget Pirlo or Iniesta, in my eyes Messi is the world’s greatest passer. We live in a generation where players are continually compared with one another and to past players. I for one lost count of how many Messi and Maradona comparisons were made during the Brazil World Cup. Let’s try and not get sucked into such debate and instead enjoy the brilliance the Argentine produces regularly because well, in my eyes we will be lucky to witness a player quite like Lionel Messi for some time.