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Mar 15, 2007

At first the points in common are evident in terms of the fact we’re talking about three players whose height was almost always cited as an obstacle to be overcome. Maradona stands 1.66m in his Albiceleste socks, Romário – nicknamed ‘O Baixinho’ (Shorty) – is three centimetres taller than ‘Dios’ (God) at 1.69m – exactly the same height as Lionel Messi.

Fair enough, so none of them were going to be basketball players, but what of it? Those who claim that their height-wise shortcomings forced a certain idiosyncratic flair out of them wouldn’t be wrong either.

To compete with their more corpulent peers all three forged their diminutive statures from weaknesses into weapons – although there are those who opine that the lower centre of gravity gave them a natural edge above lankier players.

There’s also another common thread that could be seen as a causative factor in their growth – or lack of it. Both Maradona and Romário hail from humble backgrounds in shanty towns / slums, the same breeding grounds that have seen some of the brassiest footballing talents in the world come from the muck of extreme poverty.

Romário was born near, yet so far, from the sun-kissed Rio de Janeiro shores he adores so much, the son of Edevair de Souza Faria and Manuela Ladislau Faria living in the Jacarezinho (Little Alligator) favela. Poverty-stricken, the future star’s family had problems feeding the youngster and he grew at a slow rate.

Diego Armando Maradona was born in run-down Villa Fiorito, a dirt poor district on the southern fringes of Buenos Aires to a poor family that had moved from Corrientes Province. The oldest of three brothers – who also went into football, albeit with far less success – also found his development stunted by a lack of food.

At the age of 11, Messi was diagnosed with a hormone deficiency that stunted his growth – and would have stunted it even further had FC Barcelona not offered to pay for an expensive treatment that his poor family couldn’t afford.

Apart from the physical aspects, all three have a point in common in a ball control that leaves the sphere apparently glued onto their boots. This has wound three generations of defenders and holding midfielders up to breaking points as it combines with their size very well.

All three are capable of holding the ball up effectively with their back to a rival – or several – until support arrives, or to burn time in the last minutes of a game that’s got a favourable result. The low centre of gravity means they’re harder to nudge over than a taller player, sticking over the ball with limpet-like firmness near a sideline until they pass the ball or get fouled.

The shorter legs are also a boon to manoeuvring in small spaces. Like a Mini Cooper compared to a Ford Mustang, the turning circle is so much smaller that gaps that appear impossible for the larger are easy to fit into for the smaller. Try watching ‘The Italian Job’ (either version) and ‘Bullit’ to get an idea if the metaphor fails to convince.

All three attracted defenders like a flame attracts moths, sometimes drawing up to three or four exasperated rivals out of their team’s tactical shape. This would, at its best, be followed by a sudden ‘handbrake turn’ as the diminutive marvels shot out of the ‘scrum’.

The Romário comparison is lessened given the fact that out of the illustrious trio he’s the sole right-footer, although there is a doppelganger similarity to some Messi moves in his killer instinct in the box and opportunism.

Examples of moves that enchant spectators litter the careers of the retired ‘Dios’, the about-to-retire ‘Baixinho’ and the nowhere-near-retiring ‘Pulga’ (Messi being nicknamed the ‘Flea’ for self-evident reasons) and linger in the memory with barely-restrained fondness, an aching longing and great memories that Messi is now resurrecting for Culés all over the world.

They also all had seminal performances against the Merengues that are still recalled by those fortunate to have seen them first hand – and even those who saw them for the first time years afterwards.

Although Maradona’s time at Barcelona was short-lived, his performance at the Bernabéu – dribbling several defenders down the flank before scoring in 1983 – brought a standing ovation only repeated years later for Ronaldinho.

Romário’s hat-trick against Real Madrid during the ‘manita’ (five-goal drubbing) inflicted by Cruyff’s Barça on Benito Floro’s Merengues is also a moment that has become immortalised in Blaugrana memories, particularly the ‘cola de vaca’ (cow’s tail) move that saw him sweep the ball around Alkorta and score.

Now it’s Messi’s turn to be forged into a consecrated idol after being the heart and soul of Barcelona against their white nemesis. His hat-trick may not have been the jewel in the crown of a win, but the fact that he equalised no less than three times is almost as good.

His performance in the Barça-Real Madrid Clásico ended with the final strike stroked past Casillas in the 90th minute, denying Capello’s Madrid three points that would have re-ignited their spluttering attempt to revive a Liga title challenge and sink Rijkaard’s side at the same time.

Argentinean sports daily ‘Olé’ made no bones about their view of how Messi performed and who it reminded Argentine observers of: “Messi is a clone of Maradona…’What planet is he from?’”, the last part echoing football pundit Víctor Hugo Morales who used the same phrase to describe Diego Armando Maradona during Mexico 1986 as a “barrilete cósmico” (cosmic kite) after his showing against England.

With Maradona himself having broadcast his own opinion far and wide, there’s little doubt that the mythical number 10 sees Messi as his heir. Messi himself knows this and responds with wisdom.

“Diego is the greatest…as always”, Messi underlined. “The only thing that I can do is to continue working, continue improving…but not so that I can make the comparison clearer. I’m here to carry on learning and evolving and we’ll see what I can do.”

In Spanish there’s a saying that comparisons are always hateable. Being compared to Messi and Romário is clearly a compliment for any player, but perhaps we are in danger of looking to the past to find explanations for present glory….and to anticipate future paths when they still remain to be walked.

It’s a natural vice, but nevertheless a vice, which brings us to the last point of comparison –contrast. Maradona’s slide into cocaine addiction and his turbulent private life, Romário’s avoidance of training and sex obsession: plus the fact that they both spent a short time at Barcelona.

Messi has so far steered clear of any mention of a troubled personality and his interview reveal a relaxed, humble young man rather than a player with something to prove or a chip on their shoulder resulting in the growth of a super-ego.

His only ‘scandal’ has been to be present – not involved – at a Rosario bar argument that didn’t even end in a brawl. It’s hardly the sort of behaviour that stands comparison with either Romário or Maradona; even at their most angelic.

In time terms Maradona and Romário – Ronaldo too – spent stunted stints at Camp Nou, although they perhaps burned themselves into memories precisely because they did so much to remember in such a short space of time.

‘Dios’ may have found his time with the Catalans hampered by hepatitis and an ankle-shattering tackle by ‘Butcher of Bilbao’ Andoni Goikoetxea, but shone so brightly we need to wear sunglasses over two decades later: 38 goals in 58 games still a statistic that’s hard to match.

‘O Baixinho’, perhaps one of the few to be able to compete with (or better) such scoring proficiency, like Ronaldo after him, came from PSV and exploded with 34 goals in 46 games, arriving and leaving almost exactly two decades after Maradona.

Messi arrived, unlike the others, as a pearl to be cultured in Catalunya rather than a star who’d already proved their worth in gold – and arrived at Camp Nou on the backs of big transfers: a (then) record-breaking $10 million for the Argentine, ‘only’ $4 million for the Brazilian as PSV saw him as equally talented as truancy-prone.

Leo has been nurtured at la Masía (The Mansion), Barcelona’s residential youth academy, rather than being a formed import that just needed slotting into the first team. He’s a different case to both Maradona and Romário for a number of reasons, and similar in other aspects, but still a young man who’s continuing to develop and grow both on and off the pitch.

We will continue to compare – it’s a human failing, this sentimentality, but who on earth would want to rob football of its sentiments? We love our teams with a passion that is almost undying and, just as passion is intimately related to love, we take joy from the comparisons of current stars to the ones of yesteryear.

Messi may have aspects of Maradona and Romário in aspects of his game, but he’s far from being a simple blend of either…or even a hybrid with other idols thrown into the blender to produce ‘formula Messi’.

Our comparisons of past with present players aren’t hateful – far from it – but they won’t bring us closer to the truth which is that Lionel Messi has just started. Perhaps the best move is to just enjoy a player who will doubtless lead us to compare future players with a “You know, that player really reminds me of Lionel Messi…”

Found this wonderful Article on the Net: Click Here For Original Article

Mar 11, 2007

An outstanding Lionel Messi saved the El-Classico for the catalans and most importantly made sure that the difference between Sevilla and the defending champions will be only 3 points. Don't be surprised if yesterday's El-Classico will be remembered as Lionel Messi's ElClassico. At last Messi started giving justification to El Diego's comments of making his successor. He has been showing flashes of his brilliance till yesterday, but yesterday he just released the first part of a hopefully long film called "Messi Unleashed". Yesterday's match was a battle between the collective determinations of the mardid players and individual brilliance of Barcelona players. As usual Barcelona defence played havoc and was responsible for their entire problems. But Barca players were not helped properly by a team management which was as confused as the players. First of all I never understood the formation played by Barca yesterday, but I am lucky that I am not the only one. It looked like the players also never had any idea and moreover they were not at all confident with the defence. Otherwise its not easy to explain the number of reckless challenges thrown by players.

The first Goal came from a defensive lapse from the most unlikely player, Thuram. But this has been the story of Barcelona this season. The faults are coming from the most unlikely players of all. Last season Edmillson looked like one of the best defensive midfielder, this season it gives me nightmares thinking about he playing in the side. So is the case with Marquez. Hopefully there are some goodnews coming and most probably we will sign Abidal and Frings this summer. These two guys surely should solve our aerial defence problem. But then when Thuram and Zam came everyone said this, you cannot guess anything in Barcelona.
The Goals scored by Barca were brilliant. Beautiful teamwork and individual skills. Iniesta looked like he was playing Polo when he was put in the Back. But the moment he came forward he was back to his best. Gudjonsen looks like he will give us a more physical option infront of the goal. The defence........mmmmmmmmmm... Did we have one? I don't know... deco didn't look at his best. Ronnie showed flashes of brilliance. But the real stars of night were Messi, Iker Cassilas and Victor Valdes. They were just simply awsome.

Mar 4, 2007

After all those promises shown in the last two match Barcelona went back to square one with an pathetic performance against Sevilla. Sevilla as a team had the Barca side measure to perfection. Barcelona went with the 3-4-3 formation following the grand debut of this strategy against Zaragoza. Did it backfired? Don't think the strategy backfired. The selection process made that strategy less effective. Where is Thuram? That was the first question that came to mind. A 3 men defence need 3 extra ordinary defenders in the Back. Puyol, Zambrotta and Thuram should have been the best choice. Marquez was a joke, he was responsible for 1st Goal(Sevilla's) and should have contributed for more. This match should have been looked upon as a preparation for the bigger "Do or Die " Match against Liverpool. Instead it was made into a joke.

I don't understand the logic behind the selection of Marquez in these crucial games. If you look at all the Goals we have conceded this season this guy surely have a hand on aboout 65% of them. Why you want to select a person who is that unreliable? This match also put the question of the effectiveness of a 3-4-3 formation against Liverpool. My personal opinion is that its better to go with a 3-4-3 formation in Liverpool with Deco, Xavi and Iniesta in the middle. It gives more attacking option, maybe it will put more pressure on Defence. Then we have no choice left, we can only hope to win the match by 3-2 or a 4-3 margin. The players have to show more sense of urgency, they cannot rest after getting the initial goal. This is the problem with this side this entire season.

Mar 2, 2007

Mar 1, 2007

At Last.....finally at Last Barcelona were able to overcome the Zaragoza hurdle in Copa Del Rey. The team looks like slowly getting out of the slump and regrouping. The tactical switch to 3-4-3 formation was the key for Barcelona's victory yesterday. The tactical switch provided Barca with an option of using the three midfield masterminds in the starting eleven- Xavi, Deco, Iniesta.
The option of using Messi as a lone striker does have its merits and demerits. Merits are he will create many opportunity but his problem is his finishing. One good thing about barca yesterday was they looked like the Barcelona we knew last season. There was number of opportunities created yesterday and that was the major factor which turned the match in our favor. But still the worrying factor is the way Barca takes foot off pedal after getting two goal lead and had to pay dearly for that too. Barcelona always looks more organized in attack than defence. This season Barcelona tend to carry form to coming matches. We always loses in pair and wins in pair. Example : Chelsea, Madrid and Valencia, Liverpool. This makes it very much essential to win against Sevilla, cause that could set the Tempo for coming season as far as CL and League is concerned.

The major question now is whether Rijkaard will employ the same 3-4-3 combination for upcoming matches. With Peter Crouch in the team 3-4-3 against Liverpool will be dangerous ploy - it will give more option in attack but defense? Sevilla match should be a good test for Eto'o also to prove that he is fully fit to travel to Anfield. When Eto'o comes back who will be employed in the right is the major question now - Messi or Guily? Messi has the skill whereas Guily has the pace. To win at Anfield all these questions has to have the right answer.

Whatever be the result of the next two matches, the team needs to get inspired and play well so that all their fans can hold their heads high. The players has to understand well that the Motto "More Than A Club" is not an advertisement campaign but a commitment to the society. As Oleguer Presas said
"When Barcelona win the league, we become the Army of joy finally able to face up to [Franco's troops]. We imagine ourselves halting that pack of tanks, responding to their bullets with song, laughing in the face of the fascist ire."
The Franco's troops are long gone but not the forces that oppress the helpless people of the world. Never in the history of any sports has one club become the symbol of the struggle for the oppressed.

Found this article about Oleguer Presas in Guardian :
Barcelona's right-back philosopher out to make world a better place

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