If Lionel Messi’s hands were not on his wallet but on his heart, he would have decided to play for Crystal Palace, after leaving Barcelona. Just for a year, free of charge, before retiring to his privately owned piece of land called South America. Why Crystal Palace? Just look at the kits and you’ll get the answer – they’re identical. Messi wouldn’t have felt homesick, and would have won over the British public, in no time. And think of all those Boston United fans, reveling at the prospect of seeing their number 5 battle it out with a superstar, in the third round of the Cup, on a waterlogged pitch.
But no. That didn’t happen, because Lionel Messi is what he is – a footballer who earns, in a jiffy, enough money to last until the end of the week. And he wants more. Much more. That’s why you didn’t find him in south London, shopping at Tesco’s, but in Paris, under the Eiffel Tower, waiting for a limousine to whisk him off to the Parc des Princes, and a meeting with those awfully nice – and terribly rich – men from the desert, owners of a football club and the capital city it belongs to. He met up with another footballer whose wallet doesn’t fit in his shoes, either – Neymar.
But I’m jealous, am I not? Jealous of the talents of a man who doesn’t kick a leather ball, but caresses it, changes its flight in the air with disconcerting ease, ignoring all the laws Newton ever thought of, and inventing new ones. A man of supreme talent, who has turned football from a sport into an art. He is up there with the very best, possibly even looking down on the very best. That’s how good he was; that’s how good he still is.
Football isn’t only about using your feet. It should also be about using your brains and your heart, and Lionel Messi falls short on both. Barcelona made him, paid him, allowed him to become a superstar, but could no longer afford him. The least he could have done is accept a substantial pay-cut or, better still, offer his club “a year on the house.” He could easily afford both, but did neither, convinced that he could offer his divine skills to a club that could afford them.
Messi is not the only one, of course. He has a greedy brother who goes by the name of Ronaldo; a super-lean Latin gladiator who has less fat on him than the best Northern Irish sausage the EU doesn’t want. With teeth as white as snow, hair as smooth as…I can’t can’t find a word to describe mutated keratin. But he has made my son happy, my progeny who’s a Manchester United supporter living in Holland, the antithesis of his father – that’s me – a Manchester City fan since the tender age of eight, also living in Holland. I’m old enough to remember the day when the only foreigner playing in sky blue was a Scot.
I ask myself if Ronaldo is actually worse than Messi, character wise. Both need a visit to my favourite shrink, who would tell them to grow up and be thankful for how lucky they are. And as Ronaldo flew from Turin to Lisbon in a plane that doesn’t have a flight number appearing on the departures board, because it’s his, I’m sure he had a fleeting thought for all those hanging on to their futures on the back of a plane. Such a shame they were hanging to the fuselage, instead of economy seats. Ronaldo left Turin, oblivious to the piece of paper he had previously signed, after forcing his changing room locker with a penknife. Contract, what’s a contract between friends? A misunderstanding I fear, as Ronaldo misread “sanity clause” as “release clause”. And like the little boy whose best friend nicked his Mars bar in the school playground, Ronaldo goes crying back home to Mummy, the poor love who just happened to be by him when he was born. In this case, it’s Manchester United, a club he played for when he had just acquired the right to vote.
And to think he nearly signed for Manchester City, a club that wouldn’t sell their soul to the devil – not for philosophical reasons, but because there’s no market for it. No, City have probably got their eyes on another superstar who’s not short on ego, a 22-year-old viking look-alike, Erling Haarland. Going to cost a bob or two, but greed has no price.
But is it really the fault of these glamourised mercenaries? Messi, Ronaldo, and other superstars are just taking advantage of a system that is there to turn them into what they are. No, the real culprit is the football, that round object, full of hot air, that makes millions of onlookers blow a fuse, each time it lands in the bottom corner of an empty net. I’m part of the system too, I hate to admit, having just bought a Manchester United shirt for my son. How could I refuse, he never asks me for anything. Ninety euros, my little contribution , 7.5% of which will fall into the kitty bank of a club that, like mine, represents the devil’s advocate, defending the indefensible – greed.
Football abounds with superstars, but is void of superheros. My view on the sport is inspired by that of Copernicus on the solar system. The leather ball is the centre of the game, and not the man. I find it strange that footballers haven’t understood that yet. If they had, once in possession of such a ball, they would never dare kick it away, pass it to someone else, or blast it into an empty fishing net.