A pity Messi's towering greatness could not overcome the limits of his body
For all the glorious moments this World Cup served up, there are two unforgettable moments of misery that I'll find hard to forget – one is Wayne Rooney's woefully misdirected corner late on in England's loss to Italy, the other is Messi's late free kick against Germany, which offered certain proof that Leo Messi, patron saint of short people, is indeed mortal.
What was wrong with Messi? Graham Hunter has watched him since he emerged from the La Masia academy. On Monday, we asked him about Messi's malaise over the final games of the tournament, and he was unequivocal. The years of being the creative fulcrum of the Barcelona juggernaut had exacted a serious toll.
Thinking of Messi's physical and mental burden, I was reminded of NBA legend Michael Jordan in his final season with the Chicago Bulls in 1997. Jordan was pursuing his fifth NBA title and the Bulls were on course for a two-in-a-row when they encountered the Utah Jazz in the NBA finals. On the night before the decisive Game 5, with the series even, Jordan woke up in the middle of the night, vomiting, with a serious intestinal flu and a temperature of 102 degrees. David Halberstam wrote in the 'New Yorker' that Jordan, then, and possibly still, America's greatest ever athlete, looked like a 'weak little zombie'.
Yet he insisted on playing, and though in footage he looks on the verge of collapsing during the game, Jordan played 44 of the game's 48 minutes, scoring 38 of Chicago's 90 points, including a dagger three-pointer with 25 seconds to go. Chicago won and two days later, and still wobbly, Jordan closed out the series with a 35-point performance.
Michael Jordan and Leo Messi are different men playing different sports in different eras. It is not my wish to condemn Messi. I just wanted what I believe the whole world that is not in Germany or Brazil wanted – Leo Messi to score the winner for Argentina in the World Cup final. No one doubts Messi's greatness. It is a shame that unlike Maradona, or Jordan, his towering greatness could not overcome the limits of his body.