Words: James Bird 
Image: Offside Sports Photography

It’s ridiculous. What he does with a football.

There’s no point attempting to crystallise Lionel Messi, to work out his achievements rationally. You can whack all of his stats into a big scientific calculator and put them into an extremely well-designed presentation and do a long old lecture about why he’s so good. About why his low centre of gravity makes him difficult to stop dribbling. About why the speed at which he can change direction makes it impossible to stop him turning. About the width of his metatarsals. None of it matters, though. Too much like something that makes sense. Numbers are concrete, and he is not. He doesn’t really make sense. Lionel Messi is an alien boy. A crop circle of a footballer.

People like to believe that crop circles are a result of alien interference because they’re bored with life on this planet. Secretly very bored with brass instrument renditions of Robbie Williams songs on Strictly Come Dancing and refilling the Astra with petrol and seasonal sales at DFS. Crop circles appear as if from nowhere. Magic. Just like that. No trail, no sound, no evidence. Appearing in pockets of green space as if from nowhere, creating a special pattern that nobody else can, and then disappearing back into nowhere.

He’s normalised the insane. Pulled a constellation over your eyes and made the improbable really very probable. Made the weird completely conventional. You sit there, just there on the bus, and watch a video on Twitter of him whizzing his whirring legs around five big boys who practice tackling whirring legs all week, slot the ball into the back of the net and you just *nod*: “Yes, he has scored another goal. It is his sixth goal in three games. It is another goal.” You remain unmoved. He’s paralysed us all. Put a space-spell on us that makes us think he’s human. Normal. Made from skin and bones and water and booze rather than dust from Mercury’s moons.

Maradona was a god and Cristiano is a prince and R9 was a titan and Kane is a World War 1 gunner and Ronaldinho was a cartoon, but Messi is from another cosmos. Look at him, look at his face—he doesn’t look quite right. There’s something that’s not used to earth elements like fire and wind and oxygen and defenders. Like when Zuckerberg has a sip of water and has to remind himself to swallow. His reflection in the mirror moves after his body does. His aunt-cut helmet hair when he was tiny at La Masia, his
Dungeon and Dragons fanboy hair when he got into the first team, his bleached hair and leg tattoo phase of a couple of years ago... He’s constantly having to cover-up his extra-terrestrial physicality with things that make people think: “That Lionel boy, he is a genuine human being.” 

At this moment, it feels like the world as we know it will be KAPUT! before Lionel Messi stops scoring hat-tricks in the Champions League. Britain will have been physically removed from its proximity to the EU and joined up to the USA with American-made asphalt, Australia will be a big version of those Winter Wonderlands in Droitwich that families turn up to in November and find one of the elves shagging Santa and a reindeer doing lines off the presents, high-fashion brands will have stopped making football shirts. When all of this capitulates, he’ll still be scoring goals somewhere. Slaloming acid clouds on Saturn to stick four past an Aquarius FC side with a very good new centre half from Kepler-1229b. Nutmegging black holes in a Milky Way group game against Pluto United. Swiping free kicks past the outstretched fingers of Halley's Comet. If human footballers are safe, in orbit, doing extremely good things every now and again—Messi is riding a fucking meteor shower and giving defenders a total eclipse. If he turned up round yours, the microwave would turn on, the dogs would go mental, and the curtains would start billowing.

Lionel Messi is an alien boy, and we are very lucky he has chosen to visit us.

Thanks for reading. If you'd like to read lots more things like this about football from all over the world, you'd like our print magazine. You can buy Issue 17 here, or subscribe to receive all four issues a year here.

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