A sea of about 98,000 pilgrims had taken over God’s own shrine. Chants of worship rang out every now and then, reminding God that he was very much at home. Every time they chanted, God acknowledged it. It only increased the sanctity of this whole pilgrimage. His devotees would never stop. Even a hundred years on from today, they’d never stop chanting his name as a mark of reverence.
“Messi, Messi, Messi”
The Nou Camp blared with a noise that no one can call cacophony. Even if it was a chant in reverence to a God that visitors from the Mersey never prayed to, they couldn’t help but keep their religion to themselves-for today. Instead of hoping for a better trip back to Mersey, they were left to beg for Mercy.
After all their own deities were left at the mercy of a Supreme God. He effortlessly pillaged through them. It was only a matter of when rather than if as to when he’d bless them. But it just had to be today.
For an atheist like me, writing the above two paragraphs was a task in itself. I’ve never believed in God, personally. I have never been sure of the reasons myself.
Even about 12 or 13 years ago- as a scrawny Indian teenager who harbored dreams of playing a sport, I had only real and tangible people to worship. I had multiple sporting heroes and idols as a boy in his early teens. But never a God.
These heroes were real personalities. Personalities who could be seen dazzling thousands of people at stadiums, leaving just about everyone amazed with anything they pulled off. I could only dream to be like them. I wanted to replicate them someday in the future, but obviously never could. Some others did. And they soon did be like them.
As I grew older, my heroes changed. Those who were heroes 12 or 13 years ago captured and became parts of the personality that I have today. I took a page out of their books and kept it in my drawers. That’s the most I could do.
New heroes came, amazed me and then got replaced by some newer ones. Some from the times gone by were still there. I grew up watching them improve, reach their peak and then slow down. That’s just life. It goes on. Things change. But some things just leave a big impact on your life.
Until I saw a boy in his late teens make a mockery of defenses in Spanish football. This long-haired boy from an Argentine town was all I needed in my new hero. He wasn’t like another one of the heroes I used to have. This boy seemed to have been meant to play football. He was born for it. Football was his play-thing.
Growing up, I saw this man destroy my own team to shreds twice. And now, thrice. He would do anything he wanted with the ball. You name it, he could do it like no other ever has. He would weave his foot around the ball like Michelangelo sculpting the Pieta. Like Shakespeare completing Macbeth. Like Van Gogh painting the Starry Night.
Lionel Messi would play football. He would literally play around with it. Like it listened to everything he said. Like it was his wand and him the magician. Like him the God and the ball his devotee.
Over the years, Messi has turned into a man from being that boy in his late teens. But he still plays like the boy who had that contagious charm about him and the way he played. He has certainly taken it up to many levels and has matured himself in terms of footballing wit, but a lot of things about him give you the impression of being that same boy.
If there’s anything that has changed apart from how he’s improved is his status in my eyes. The heroes and idols I had as a kid have either retired or aren’t as good as they used to be. They’ve been replaced by some others. To a point where they’ve been overshadowed by them.
But Messi, what do I say about him. He has redefined what ‘hero’ means. In the years to come, a player like him will not be replaced by some other guy. Probably not even in the next 100 years. He has set the level so high that it is impossible for anyone to reach it. Because he was meant for this game. Ever since he took birth.
It makes many world class players look silly sometimes. Its unfair to them to have been born in the same era as Messi, but its a privilege for anyone even remotely associated with football. Instead of shabbily comparing one player to another, its finally time to sit back and enjoy till it lasts. Because it won’t last forever.
Its time to make the most of it. Take in the most of it we can. Till Lionel Messi is playing football. Because when he isn’t playing anymore, nothing else will seem of the highest level. Even today, we have become so used to seeing Messi pull off godly things that anything below that will not appease us after he steps away.
Even Kylian Mbappe’s best will not appease us as much Messi does today. And even though Messi does it every week, it is special every week.
After all, Messi isn’t like one of my heroes from childhood. He isn’t someone I want to be. He isn’t someone I could have ever dreamt of being even in my wildest dreams. Its impossible. No one can ever be Jesus, Krishna or Allah. Their legacy goes on forever. Thousands of years on, they are still worshipped and adored.
The best I can do is sit back and watch. And the best I would do 50 years from now is boast to my grandkids that I was one of the chosen devotees to have watched this man play. For men may come and men may go, Lionel Messi’s legacy will live on forever.
As the 98,000 pilgrims exited the shrine with the chants ringing out inside their heads, some of them knew there might not be a next time. There will be new faces at the shrine at the weekend. Some of the few lucky ones who witnessed God while he weaved his magic.
Those of whom wouldn’t be privileged enough to come again next week were left to wonder if they can take rebirth in the same era once again. If they can start all over again to watch the moment unfold again. That’s what God makes you believe in.