Comment: We’ll always remember the time Messi came to town

Being in the presence of greatness has the tendency to conjure up such feelings, and meeting Lionel Messi certainly qualifies as such a moment.

Barcelona striker Lio Messi at the Western Wall 370 (photo credit: Tourism Ministry / Gilad Zamir)
Barcelona striker Lio Messi at the Western Wall 370
(photo credit: Tourism Ministry / Gilad Zamir)
Sunday was a store-it-up-for-the-grandchildren type of day, the kind in which you immediately and intuitively know that the events will be replayed and retold hundreds of times over the ensuing months, years and, indeed, decades.
Being in the presence of greatness has the tendency to conjure up such feelings, and meeting Lionel Messi certainly qualifies as such a moment.
The transcendent Argentine soccer star was in Jerusalem on Sunday with his Barcelona teammates, visiting the Western Wall and then attending an exclusive meet-and-great ceremony at the President’s Residence before rushing off for a late-afternoon soccer clinic with Israeli and Palestinian youth at Kfar Hamaccabiah in Ramat Gan and an evening event at Bloomfield Stadium.
For Messi, the fanfare accompanying his every move must be second nature to him at this point. To most of the people he interacts with, however, it is a memory of a lifetime.
There are few athletes in history – across all sports – who have captivated the world and become the cultural phenomenon that Messi is now, still in the prime of his career at 26 years of age.
Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are recent examples that come to mind, however as soccer is the world’s clearcut No. 1 sport, Messi’s appeal would have to be considered even more widespread than any of those aforementioned legends.
Generally considered by commentators, coaches and colleagues as the best soccer player in the world and one of the greatest in history, the Messi legacy is growing by the day.
When one thinks about what characteristics make a sportsman great, the notion of dominance comes to mind. In the sense that dominance means breaking records, scoring more than others, winning more than others, and being awarded the highest individual honors in one’s sport, Messi has that covered in spades.
By the age of 21, Messi had received Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations. The following year, in 2009, he won his first Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year awards. He followed this up by winning the inaugural FIFA Ballon d’Or in 2010, and 2012. He also won the 2010/11 UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. At the age of 24, Messi became Barcelona’s all-time top scorer in all official club competitions.
At age 25, Messi became the youngest player to score 200 La Liga goals.
And, don’t worry, we’re just getting started.
Messi is the first player in soccer history to win four FIFA/Ballons d’Or – all of which he won consecutively – as well as the first to win three European Golden Shoe awards. Messi has won six La Ligas, two Copas del Rey, five Supercopas de España, three UEFA Champions Leagues, two Super Cups and two Club World Cups. In March 2012, Messi made Champions League history by becoming the first player to score five goals in one match. He also matched the record of 14 goals in a single Champions League season. Messi became the first player to top-score in four successive Champions League campaigns. Messi set the European record for most goals scored in a season during the 2011/12 season, with 73 goals. In the same season, he set the current goal-scoring record in a single La Liga season, scoring 50 goals. In March, Messi scored in his 19th consecutive La Liga game, becoming the first soccer player in history to net in consecutive matches against every team in the league.
About the only thing missing from his resume is a World Cup title, but he should have at least two, if not three, more chances to put that to bed.
It is much more than just the numbers and a list of accomplishments, however, that make Messi one of the all-time greats.
If soccer is, in fact, the beautiful game, as is it oft dubbed, then Messi is the beautiful player who seems to have been created explicitly to play it.
It is his warrior’s heart combined with an artist’s grace, his ability to summon up a seemingly mythical flair for the spectacular or take the unimaginable and make it reality.
Messi’s brilliance lies not in his physical prowess – he stands at just under five-feet-six-inches and not even 150 pounds – but in his ability to turn into a magician with the ball glued to his shoe and capture the hearts and imaginations of billions with his enthralling feats in a game everyone can relate to.
Like many true sporting icons, the soft-spoken Messi is content to let his play on the field do most of his public talking.
Sunday’s interaction with him was no different. No speeches, declarations or comments. Just a brief handshake among the throng of fans, a quick thumbs-up, that impish grin.
And just like that, he was back on the bus and gone.
Gone, perhaps, but the experience never to be forgotten.

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