Till 2010, 16-year-old Karan knew only one game, played only one game and watched only one game; Cricket. Despite its complications and its few weird rules, Cricket came naturally to him. He played the sport from his early childhood and learnt it quickly too. Following India’s matches and shadow practicing cover and straight drives came even more naturally, in the same way it comes to every aspiring cricketer in India. A right-hand batsman he became, could bowl a few medium paced deliveries as well, but was whacked all around the park. So stuck to his bat doing the talking. But somehow, Cricket, felt like it was everything. The connection of the bat with the ball, oh that sound.. Till that time, the sport of football was just a sport, and the name Lionel Messi hardly meant a thing.
His favourite cricketer was Rahul Dravid but Sachin Tendulkar’s shots had a long-lasting effect on his memory. They stayed their till he was satisfied he had played exactly the same kind of a shot against his friends. He could never replicate them though. Years passed by, and he became more aware about the sport, its intricacies, its legends, the changing trends and new heroes rising to make a name for themselves. After all cricket was the most followed game in India, still is. With time, thoughts also changed, mindset changed, the approach towards the game changed, maybe therefore idols changed too. A guy from Ranchi, who would change Indian cricket forever, became someone, Karan looked up to. Naming that guy from Ranchi and letting you know that this story is about me, would all be very obvious, isn’t it? Never mind.
New found love for football, Lionel Messi
While the passion and fire within, for Cricket has never died in me, in 2010 it got face to face with “The Beautiful Game” – Football. The World Cup 2010 like any other Football World Cup was supposed to be a big event. The 16-year-old Karan knew of a few footballers but the noise building up was for one player, a little Argentine named Lionel Messi. He could dribble past as many players you could put in his way, some people said. Those idiots didn’t know shit. If anyone says Messi can only dribble past opponents, he doesn’t know shit about football. Like I didn’t know shit about football, when I watched the 2010 World Cup, dozing off when it got into a boring phase, and then suddenly waking up to the commentator saying “Messi” with the ball at his feet. The commentator never screamed “Messi”, he just said his name like signalling a blind person that the ball was at his feet. Messi’s feet.
And by the way Messi didn’t do shit either that World Cup. Coached by Diego Maradona’s Argentina crashed out of the 2010 World Cup thanks to Germany hammering them 4-0 in the quarter-finals. But you know what, I had seen a few glimpses, of the ball sticking to his feet like magnet attracting iron.
That was enough to incite a small spark in me to watch Barcelona, a club that Messi represented, I was told. What also was a motivating factor to watch a few Barca matches was that the World Cup winning Spain squad, with players like Andres Iniesta (the goalscorer for Spain in the final against the Netherlands), Xavi Hernandez, David Villa (He had just joined Barca from Valencia) all played for Barcelona. And I thought to myself, “This might be the best team ever then.” And hence started a love affair.
Lionel Messi being just Messi
Pep Guardiola’s Barca ruled the world with their football in the years to come, more so with their philosophy, at the pivot of which was Messi. Quite surprisingly though, the first complete Barca game I watched, they lost 2-0 to Hercules, a newly-promoted side in the league.
But Guardiola’s team with Messi in it was Ballad, poetry in motion. Messi’s stature rose with each game. Adjectives were hard to find for the man, still are, 30 years since his birth now. Some called him “Magician”, some “Extraterrestrial”, some “Alien”; while everyone observed him carefully, no one understood that Messi was just being Messi, he wasn’t doing tricks, nor was he from outer space or any other planet. He was being him. Messi was just being Messi. Keeping it simple.
Glory, failures and hope
But like any other footballer’s life, there were mountains and valleys. Glory, more glory, then a dip, disappointment, agony, comparisons, triumph, heartbreak and more glory; He’s dealt well with success and failure so far, apart from the one occasion when he retired from the Argentina national team, but came back after getting over immediate emotions of back-to-back losses in the finals. But the love for the ball is still as fresh as it was since childhood. Messi till 30 has been a force, unrelenting.
And all these years he’s been there. At the heart of football. Sometimes with fingers pointed toward the sky, talking to his grandmother, sometimes jubilated, exulting all that is inside him, sometimes with tears in his eyes, face inside his round-neck t-shirt. He’s 30 now. And when you look deeper into his life, you realise he’s been carrying hopes ever since childhood. Hope is what he always symbolizes. He hoped to play football among kids aged his age, he hoped to fight his hormonal deficiency and in hope came from Rosario to Barcelona where he hoped he would get his treatment and hoped could somehow endure a career in football. Ever since he was a football prodigy (He still is), he’s carried hopes for Barcelona, each season, each tournament, each matchday, each minute. Most of all he’s carried his country’s hope, who’ve at times not stood by him. Like Argentina, with Argentina, he too hopes….One day.
Image courtesy: Manchester United