Leo leads in La Liga

Leo Messi. Photo by: L.F.Salas www.flickr.com

Leo Messi. Photo by: L.F.Salas

Last night, Leo Messi became the all-time leading scorer in La Liga after his hat-trick in Barcelona’s 5-1 victory over Sevilla. He has now scored a quite extraordinary 253 league goals and breaks former Athletic Bilbao striker Telmo Zarra’s record of 251 goals which has stood since 1955. Given that Messi is only 27, and unlikely to leave Barcelona, what might his tally stand at by the time he hangs up his boots?

When he does, it will be the end of one of the most incredible careers ever. I’ve said before that I currently put Messi second on the all-time greats list to Maradona. Even if Argentina had beaten Germany in the World Cup final, I wouldn’t have promoted Messi to top spot as he’d become a lethargic and peripheral figure in the tournament from about the quarter finals stage. His sparkling form earlier in the tournament was a joy to behold but came mostly against rather limited opponents.

Messi’s league goals break down as follows: 206 with his wand of a left foot, 38 with his rather underused right foot, eight with his head, and apparently one with his hand (there’s no end to the Maradona resemblance).

I witnessed one of those goals at the Nou Camp in February 2010. Barcelona beat Malaga 2-1 and Messi scored a late winner, tapping in with his right foot from a low cut back from Dani Alves. The move that created the goal was exquisite and highlighted much of what made that Barca side stand out: the patience in possession even when chasing a winner, the willingness to receive the ball in tight spaces, and then play a defence-splitting pass at exactly the right moment. Messi’s finish was the simplest touch of the whole move.

He’s scored many that were anything but simple of course including the one against Getafe as a 19 year old which was uncannily similar to Maradona’s famous second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup. The poise and balance in each case is balletic. Messi has always succeeded in making the sublime seem ridiculously simple.

The most impressive thing about Messi is that he’s never lost that boyish enthusiasm for having the ball at his feet and scoring goals. He’s the kid who would always be knocking on your door, ball in hand, asking if you were coming out for a game.

Inevitably he was labelled the ‘new Maradona’ when he burst onto the scene. As a small, left footed and prodigiously talented Argentinean, that was hardly surprising. But for all the similarities they are quite different players and it stems I think from their very different personalities. Maradona is brash and individualistic while Messi is far less extrovert and appears much happier to blend into the team.

For a country to produce one of them would consider itself blessed, but to produce both? Well, that looks like the hand of God at work.

Not much clamour for the glamour (friendly)

Photo by: Alex Jilitsky www.flickr.com

Photo by: Alex Jilitsky

Argentina face Portugal in an international friendly next Tuesday at Old Trafford in Manchester, England, UK. Apparently just 15,000 tickets have been sold so far. The capacity of the stadium is over 75,000 so those spectators will have plenty of room to stretch their legs.

The perplexed organiser of the fixture, Leo Morales, said: “I don’t know why we haven’t had more sales.” The cheapest adult ticket is £40. So there’s one reason straight away Leo. It’s exactly six weeks until Christmas (yes, that shocked me too when I just looked it up) and most people probably have better things to spend £40 on right now.

The game is likely to be played on a cold, wet Tuesday night in November. I make that prediction with some confidence having lived in Manchester for a year. Most Tuesday nights after August are cold and wet. So there’s another potential reason.

Also, I’m assuming it might already have been pointed out to Leo that Manchester is not in fact in either Argentina or Portugal. Manchester is 6,950 miles from Buenos Aires and 1,073 miles from Lisbon. Manchester is a great city but when I lived there I don’t recall seeing huge communities of either Argentinians or Portuguese. Why on earth is this match not being played in Portugal?

Manchester United’s website refers to the game as a ‘glamour clash, produced by Torneos y Competencias and World Eleven.’ I had naively thought it would have been produced by the Argentinian FA and the Portuguese FA.

World Eleven’s website boasts that their ‘experience in efficiently managing international teams’ has allowed them to ‘obtain the exclusive rights to organize the Argentine national team’s friendly games.’ So what does Argentina’s FA do exactly?

The marketing and commercial expertise of World Eleven can be judged by the fact that 15,000 tickets have been sold (so far) for this game and the organiser remains confused as to why.

More and more of these ‘glamour’ friendlies are popping up and many get staged in the UK. British fans are obviously seen as among the most willing to pay for this type of fare but they already enjoy a diet of quite glamorous fixtures on a regular basis. Glamour friendlies are a bit like fast food; they are tempting but you tend to end up with a slightly dissatisfied feeling afterwards.

Argentina v Portugal is being billed as Messi v Ronaldo but it’s less than a month since we all tuned in for El Classico. That was a game that really mattered and it was brilliant to watch. I’ll be surprised if either plays more than a half next week and they will be conserving themselves for more meaningful tests ahead.

Messi and Ronaldo are undoubtedly the best two players in the world right now. If they can’t sell a glamour friendly these days then who can? Good luck Leo Morales.