Lionel Messi: One Man to Rule Them All & in the Darkness Bind Them

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Lionel Messi is number 1 in 90min’s Top 20 Greatest Footballers of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next week.
Lionel Messi. The name is enough to send shockwaves through the system, the blurry images flashing through the brain enough to make you question everything you thought you knew about physics. About movement. About the difference between solids, liquids and gasses. About life. 
That is what happens when you’re confronted with the best player of his generation and ergo the best player of this decade. You question things, because watching Messi is an existential experience. But you never question Messi himself. 

For he is unquestionable.

Aitor Alcalde/GettyImages

At least he hasn’t been for some time. But it wasn’t always that way.

We’ve all heard about the growth hormone issues, the ‘he’s too small’ admonishments from coaches and the subsequent hesitancy from Newell’s Old Boys and River Plate to fund the treatment. It’s well documented. But that doesn’t make it any stranger.
Now, I do not have a tape measure nor a time machine to reveal just how tall the Argentine was at these various stages of his stunted development, but I do know that – at this time – he stands at a full two inches taller than a certain Diego Maradona, at least in the annals of Wikipedia.
Sure, the treatment obviously helped, but all I’m saying is that small players from Argentina…they’ve worked out okay before.
And yet, as a little boy, Maradona was a national sensation, juggling oranges and bottles with his feet during breaks in broadcast games*, and quickly became known by such nicknames as ‘El Pibe de Oro’ (The Golden Boy) and ‘Cosmico’ (you get it), while Messi was stuck with ‘La Pulga’. ‘The Flea’. Not quite the same, is it. 

Clearly, Argentina wasn’t quite ready for another Maradona. But – surprisingly, given his so-so exploits at the Nou Camp – Barcelona were.

[*Now, if I’m being honest, Messi is said to have done the same kind of half-time antics at some point, albeit mainly with footballs, but that

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