There is one in every team, every group, every classroom, every community:

The Lionel Messi who overshadows everyone else; whose brilliance blinds teachers and coaches and peers alike, and even scares them a bit. The Messi, who would shine bright in the pages of history and before whose dazzle every Romero, Higuain or di María would fade into oblivion. The Messi, whose name makes rivals break out in shivers.

Everyone across the world, even those who do not follow the rules of the game, know the name: Lionel Messi, fondly called Leo. The epitome of perfection. The owner of the powerful left foot.

You may be smart, average or below-average, but you are known as “a member of Messi’s team.” You may be di María, who scored the winning goal, but you had “scored it out of Messi’s perfect pass.”

Either it was Messi’s goal, or it was Messi’s pass.

Years later, at alumni get-togethers, others come to you and frown in concentration. “You were in Messi’s class, weren’t you?” At job interviews, you are asked: “Messi is a genius, what are you?”
“I…” you stutter. “I once scored a goal.”
Against the blazing sun, the stars stand no chance.

There is a lot of expectation from Messi. One is painfully aware of all the attention he gets. He cannot falter. He cannot fail. He knows all the answers – the free kicks, the headers, the corners, he knows them all. Which is why he is the most marked man on the team. Others look to him for inspiration, for ideas, for the team’s success. Commentators, spectators, praise his abilities, note his every movement. Did he smile? Did he frown? Did he look tired? See the way he stares at the ball?

Oh yes, there is jealousy. Lots of it. Right under the skin. Thick and pulsating and threatening to break through. But you say, “Yes, we’re proud that he is a part of our team. No, I do not fear being in his shadow; it is an honour to be.”

As for you, you may struggle all you like, in your own corner, enjoy whatever attention your feeble attempts manage to raise. A few claps here, a few smiles of approval there. You’re a mere shooting star. You can succeed, you can fail. Against the enormity of Messi’s achievements, you are a dot. One that will vanish in no time – unless you are the next Messi in the making. In which case, you have large shoes to fill.

Once there was Maradona, and there was the Hand of God in 1986. One remembers pretty much nothing else, no one else. Like I said, there is one in every team.

Either you are Messi; or you are in his shadow.