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Genius in sports does not come around every day, and when it does, it should not be hard to recognize and appreciate. When an athlete accomplishes things in a sport that have never been done before and does it in a way that has rarely ever been seen, it is important to not only stand up and applaud that greatness, but to make sure everyone else sees it and understands what is being accomplished.
Lionel Messi is probably the greatest athlete of today, yet outside of those who understand and love the sport he dominates, his genius is swept aside as just another athlete playing a meaningless sport. Of course, soccer, or football as it is call outside of the U.S., is one of the most popular sports in the world, yet you would not know it listening to analysts discuss the sport.
Soccer gets a bad rap for many reasons here in the U.S., but instead of welcoming the washed-up players from Europe who are past their prime, the greatest soccer player to have come along in decades while he is still ripe with potential should be celebrated.
Messi stands at 5 feet 7 inches tall. It would be hard to look at the man and think that you are looking at the greatest athlete playing any sport today. He has a slight build with the face of a young boy, not yet a man, but do not be fooled. He has been described as an assassin on the field, and at 24 years old, the 7-year pro has surpassed legends.
Messi is now the all-time leading scorer for his club team, Barcelona, with 234 goals, and the first player to score 5 goals in a single game in that league. Accomplishments left to those at the twilight of their careers, not a young player yet to reach his prime. He has won the FIFA Ballon d’Or three times, an award given to the best player each season, and is likely to win his fourth this year.
Soccer played at the highest level by the best players is the most beautiful sport in the world to watch, and Messi reinforces that every time he gets on the field. Watching the boy genius play is like watching Barry Sanders make a great unexpected cut on the football field or even watching Michael Jordan suspended in the air on his way to the basket.
Those are not images seen every day in sports, but when they do happen, they should be appreciated because they may never be seen again. As sports fans here get sidetracked by Linsanity and Tebowmania, the real once-in-a-generation story does not get the attention it deserves. We do not play football in America, so it is only right we give it another name. Soccer in America is the reason why Messi does not get the love and recognition he truly deserves.
During the week when the record was set by Messi, ESPN, who covers all sports, barely dedicated a segment to the story. In fact, a quick video was put up along with the record-breaking goal, and that was that. That is all soccer is worth in the realm of American sports, even if the great Lionel Messi is the topic.
There have been many sports analysts during World Cup events and Olympic events who have said that America does not need to be good at soccer because of all the other sports which the U.S. dominates. There is an arrogance that goes along with the ideas that Americans have about soccer and why American soccer players are not as good as other nations. Sadly, this will not change anytime soon.
The eye test is all it takes to realize that this is no ordinary man. Lionel Messi is superman and his kryptonite might very well be the international stage, the only place left where his greatness has yet to make its mark. However, maybe that will change in 2014.