Tag Archives: Lionel Messi

The Wee Man Rules in Football

28 Jul

I grew up in Scotland. The wee man was ubiquitous. And he could be dangerous. The big man was wary. Don’t annoy the wee man. His punch reached above his stature. You didn’t see it coming. He was down there. And you couldn’t catch him. He was fast. It was the same on the soccer field.

One of Scotland’s most famous clubs, Glasgow Celtic, fielded a player named Jimmy “Jinky” Johnstone (pictured). He reached five feet, two inches. The fans loved him. In the sixties and seventies, he buzzed defenses with a dizzying zigzag. Big defenders employed every dirty trick to stop him – swats and hacks failed. Height jokes only provoked him to topple the tall. Nothing could repel the bite of wee Jinky. He was vital to Celtic’s 1967 European Cup winning side, the first British club to achieve the feat. If he were around today, Barcelona would have him on their team.

Barcelona is the smallest team in Europe. Their star player, Lionel Messi – nickname La Pulga, the Flea – is three inches below the team average, which is just short of five feet ten. As a kid, he took hormone growth shots with his cornflakes in the morning. He fits right in with small teammates Andres Iniesta and Xavi, forming a diminutive triumvirate that dominates world soccer. No net is safe when they strike for it.

The wee man has ruled for decades. Go back over half a century to the great Hungarian player, Ferenc Puskas, a goal-scoring machine at five foot seven, eighty-four goals in eighty-five matches for his country. Pele, the greatest of all-time, nudged five feet eight, won three World Cups and became world soccer’s biggest star. His Argentine rival for that lofty accolade was Diego Maradona. God handed him a mere five feet five and that was enough to win the World Cup handily in 1986.

These guys possessed a low center of gravity combined with excellent technical skills boosted by an ability to rapidly change speed and direction. Their dominance forced defensive tacticians to think hard. One method was to assign a defender to shadow the wee man.

A famous example – an Italian defender, the paradoxically named Claudio Gentile, was far from sensitive when he removed Maradona’s sting at the 1982 World Cup after sticking to him like a glue trap for the whole game. “Soccer is not for ballerinas,” he said afterwards. Italy won the tournament.

If marking failed, brutality stepped in. Pele was kicked off the field during the 1966 World Cup vowing to never play again. Thankfully he changed his mind. In the eighties, the Basque, Andoni Goikoetxea, known to his friends as the Butcher of Bilbao, attacked the luckless Maradona with a savage tackle that destroyed the Argentine’s ankle, shredding his cleat. Later, reports claimed the Butcher displayed the shredded cleat like a trophy on top of his television set.

It can be dangerous being the wee man battling in the field. Many plot their downfall. Just ask Napoleon. But for all those aspiring soccer kids out there who are on the short side of the ruler, take heart from the fact that soccer is your game to master.

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Barcelona – All the Possessions, Get Robbed

19 Apr

Barcelona have all the possessions. 75% of the play, hundreds of passes, gold ingots embossed with Messi and his ilk. All that treasure waiting to be robbed. It’s a perfect plot for some good old London gangsters to exploit. Today, Chelsea burgled the Catalans, stealing the goal in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final in England’s capital. As the cockney villains said in the classic London gangster flick, Sexy Beast, “Where there’s a will…and there is a fu***** will…there’s a way.”

Didier Drogba, the great cat burglar of English football, bagged the prize goal and bolted. Barcelona vainly chased – stop thief! But Chelsea secured their bounty behind their defensive wall. Barca at a loss – who cares about their dominant passing game? Goals are the only coin that matters.

The old English rhyme, Rain, Rain Go To Spain. Chelsea hope the downpour during today’s game will flood to good fortune in the second leg of the tie in Barcelona. The Blaugrana tidal wave will be coming at them. And Barca shows no mercy. Chelsea may be burglars. Barca are killers. They throttle the opponent’s neck with an asphyxiating grip. Expect Chelsea to fight to the last breath. And beware, Barca! Give Chelsea an inch – and methinks, me old son – they may take you for a mile. The spoils will be settled next Tuesday on the field of Nou Camp in restive Catalonia.

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How Do You Stop A Player Like Messi?

30 Mar

In the old days, when the tackle from behind was legal, and defenders were given respect not for their play but out of fear, the golden boys of soccer were afraid to turn their backs on goal. Lurking behind them like blood thirsty sharks were tough nuts like Spain’s Andoni Goikoetxea, the Butcher of Bilbao, his nom de guerre, or the inappropriately named Claudio Gentile, an Italian on a mission to stop anything that moved.

In 1966, Brazil was knocked out of the World Cup Finals because Pele was booted off the park.  In the 1990 Finals, thanks to Gentile, Maradona was scythed at every turn ending Argentina’s hopes of a repeat triumph. Diego also had his ankle broken by The Butcher of Bilbao when he played for Barcelona. It remains one of the worst tackles in history. Goikoetxea kept the Argentine’s shredded boot as a souvenir putting it on top of his television set.

Mercifully, those days are over. The age of the clobbering boot has been replaced by the lightness of foot. Today, Messi of Barcelona leads the dance. So how do you stop a player like Messi? Can you?

Gentile was known to stick to his man like a bottom stuck to a toilet seat with superglue on April Fools Day. But coaches have abandoned the man-to-man marking in favor of zones and space. Little fleas like Messi thrive in this kind of environment. Short of throwing itching powder on the genius, there seems to be no answer. Getting rid of him by employing a Materazzi-style insult against his mama won’t work. Lionel is no street fighter. These days, soccer players don’t have to be.

So we can all sit back and enjoy the diminutive wizard mixing his magic, maybe even see him win the World Cup for his hero and coach, Diego Maradona. The old man of Argentina can relax in the knowledge that his protégé plays in a game well past the age of the psycho butcher.

If you fancy it, check out my guide to the World Cup Finals, click below