Today, ESPN published a Lionel Messi story by Sam Borden that’s scheduled to appear in ESPN The Magazine’s June 8 World Fame issue. The long-form article mainly concerns Messi’s off-field demeanor — he’s quiet, reclusive and prefers to express himself on the pitch.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and it doesn’t take away from what’s ultimately an absorbing, extremely well-written profile (read it). However, it’s obvious that Borden was disappointed by the fact that he was supposed to interview Messi face-to-face for the article, only for the Argentine to call off the meeting a few weeks later (a series of events that would disappoint any journalist).
Regardless, Borden was allowed to email his questions to an associate, and Messi, according to his PR team, provided the answers. One of these answers struck a chord with me, as the man who’s so obviously entirely consumed by his profession and family suddenly transformed into an unlikely existential hero.
Here’s Messi the stoic, driven ever deeper within himself and now standing in stark relief against the delusion of the world. Except Messi is entirely without despair; he’s one of of the few who’s simply found love in what they do.
In response to his much debated "role” — what his lasting legacy is outside of just being a godly footballer — Messi says, “today, there are people with a lot of interests and everyone wants to see things in the way that suits them. I prefer not to play this game.”
Sure, it’s not much. But with regards to Messi speaking, we’ve always had to make the most out of very little. We enjoy narrative because we want to unearth the mystery of other people’s lives. Messi’s reticence in the face of such boundless sleuthing has become the entire story.
But when you look at Messi’s Instagram, one of our few available avenues into his daily life, it is immediately evident that his own tastes are far different from the stereotypical ones that permeate the social network. There’s not a lot of fabrication going on; there’s very little striving towards a personal brand or extravagant visions of a self-built utopia.
It’s Messi drinking yerba mate in his sweats.
It’s Messi training.
And that's pretty much every photo.
Does all this make Messi a modern Diogenes? No, but it does make him something of an iconoclast amongst modern footballers. In the age of #MeMeMe, where no one wants to reflect for one moment and ask themselves what role they play in the world’s dishonesty, Messi refuses to add to the daily inundation of noise.
It doesn’t make for a great headline (just read this one for Christ’s sake), but it does seem to make for a better life.