It’s official. As of this week, Lionel Messi is once again the greatest soccer player on the planet.
FIFA says so. But you can believe it, anyway.
Messi, the only five-time winner of the Ballon d’Or, plays soccer with exceptional skill, glorious flair, and a fine sense of what’s most important in the game: a beautiful and successful team production. He scores goals, and he provides his teammates with lots of opportunities to do so, as well.
Messi’s best moments, like a writer’s best poems or an artist’s greatest paintings, raise our hopes.
FIFA, where bribes, broken promises, and backroom deals come with the wining and dining, is perhaps the most thoroughly discredited sports governing body ever to have mishandled global responsibilities. Given the competition — the IOC and the governing bodies of cycling and track and field, for example — that’s some distinction.
You can watch videos featuring Messi’s footwork, his passes, and his goals on the web. The best of them are inspiring, in the sense that they provide images of excellence…collections of moments in which extraordinary physical skill, determination, and imagination combine to remind the viewer of the wonders a great athlete can accomplish. Messi’s best moments, like a writer’s best poems or an artist’s greatest paintings, raise our hopes. We can’t do those things, but we are delighted and encouraged that somebody can. We feel better about all of us.
FIFA discourages us. Sepp Blatter would have presented Lionel Messi with his award, except that Blatter has been banned for eight years from having anything to do with soccer. Substituting for him was acting FIFA President Issa Hayatou of Cameroon, a long-time Blatter lieutenant. At the awards ceremony, he mentioned the organization’s “last few difficult months,” thereby understating the problem by degree and by decades. This is perhaps not surprising. In 2011, Mr. Hayatou was accused of accepting a $1.5 million bribe in connection with the awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, perhaps the silliest and most transparently crooked decision ever reached by a sports governing body. “Can Parliament prove that I have $1.5 million?” Mr. Hayatou asked rhetorically. Apparently nobody could, so he has ascended to Blatter’s throne.
I suppose that in the realm of soccer and the rest of our games, as in other realms, the sublime and the shameful have always had to compete for our attention. What is to be done? Squawk, I guess, and close one eye and enjoy the show.