10 is the magic number of the Beautiful Game. Any player who dares wear it on their back has to be something special.
That FC Barcelona have handed Lionel Messi the magical number 10 shirt vacated by Ronaldinho is no surprise. From a stringy, spotty faced oik to the most exciting player on the planet, Messi is holding the flame with quiet style and a healthy dose of nonchalance. He isn’t exactly Ronaldo or Beckham in the looks stakes but that hasn’t held him back on or off the pitch. This for handsomely challenged footballers the world over has been a real boost….
When he first appeared on the scene he was so lightweight half the mothers in Barcelona wanted to cook for him. His sad vacant face looked like it should have been on a World Health Organisation poster warning about the perils of malnutrition. Only the bravest of ad execs will have been thinking about posters selling football boots.
The very bravest of them all sanctioned a huge campaign for Adidas boots where a half robot/half Messi poster covered a whole building on the Passeig de Gracia, the major boulevard in the city. Even his own mother would have winced. Lionel isn’t your natural poster boy. But there was something great, something deeply inspiring in the fact that as the beautiful people swanned in and out of Gucci and Armani stores, rampaging commercialism was championing a geeky kid with outrageous talent and a growth hormone deficiency problem. Not only that, they were blowing him up to the size of a seven story building.
As with Ronaldinho before him, Messi’s ego is thankfully less than seven stories high. Unlike Ronaldinho though, Messi is quiet, verging on shy. He rarely smiles and isn’t the sort to be the last one out of the sweaty nightclubs of Barcelona. Don’t let that fool you though.
He is supremely confident, a player who knows his value to the team. His setbacks in his early life have given him determination to succeed. This is exactly the sort of player new Barca coach Pep Guardiola has been championing. Guardiola insists that his new Barca are a team machine.
But can he cope with the burden of wearing the ’10’? Until now he has been happy to do his stuff in the comfort zone of being ‘the kid.’ Now is a different story. Los Cules (Barca Fans) won’t tolerate another two trophy-free seasons and Messi is the player they are banking on despite Guardiola’s master plan. The number 10 brings with it not just responsibility, but the burden of dreams.
The number 10 has to be a magical match winner.
Messi is certainly that, but he is entering a phase where the test begins. Being involved in a tug-of-war between his club and the Olympics hasn’t helped. Messi missing the start of the season will be a critical blow not just to Barca, but his own chances of starting his era at 10 on the front foot. The travel to China will take it out of him and the risk of injury will play on his mind. His history of physical growth problems, managed with strong medication, mean he isn’t the most robust of players.
If he can get the Olympics out of the way (assuming he goes – the CAS have ruled that Barcelona don’t need to release Messi for the Olympics) and return home fit he has the quiet yet confident personality to shoulder the burden of expectation and let his magical talents enchant the Camp Nou for a long time to come. The magical number 10 is in safe hands….