22 May ~ My growing frustration with the mania over Lionel Messi reached a crux recently when I read an article that placed him alongside sporting legends such as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Tiger Woods. A clear distinction needs to be made between legends and stars. Having grown up in North America during the era of Gretzky and Jordan, I can attest that these two were not simply the best at what they did, they redefined the criteria for what being the best was. While other sports stars were doing the same as their predecessors (only better), they did things no one had ever seen before or thought possible. For all their records – a testament to their stardom – their legends lie in revolutionising their sports.
When a father in Edmonton tells his son about Gretzky, he isn't listing records. He's starting sentences like: "He would see the play unfold a minute before it…" before cutting himself off and trying (and failing) again with: "He carried his team from…" before finally resigning himself to the wholly unsatisfying cliche: “You just had to have seen him play." Legends have that intangible, indescribable quality.
When I watch documentaries on Muhammad Ali, I hate him. He is arrogant and disrespectful – at least, in the context of today's world. In Ali's world, he was the voice of the unheard, a figure of pride where there were very few. It helped that he was one of the most dominant fighters of all time, but so were boxers like Larry Holmes and George Foreman, who don't share anywhere near the same status as Ali.
They were stars of their sport, while Ali – a legend – was bigger than their sport. Some people might say sport and politics should be mutually-exclusive, and sometimes I am inclined to agree. But such divides are what separates stars from legends: while stars sit at the top of their sport, legends rise above it.
Though admittedly I am not a fan of golf, it is clear that Woods has transformed the sport. He took what was traditionally reserved for rich, old, white men and delivered it to millions of otherwise indifferent fans. If you charted my interest in golf over my lifetime, you would see a huge jump from a steady nil to what it is today, right around the time of Tiger's emergence.
That this surge of interest happened subconsciously – I never actively decided to start watching golf – is a testament to just how influential Tiger Woods has been to not just golf, but the sporting world as a whole. He single-handedly changed it.
Messi has shattered records and won a lot of trophies, albeit with a very good team swimming in a shallow pond. He is a pleasure to watch, but all of this merely cements his status as a star, which he undoubtedly is. But while all legends are stars, not all stars are legends.
We need to keep the legendary club exclusive as a tribute to those athletes who are truly worthy of the honour. Let's not try and force Messi into company he is currently not worthy of, just for the sake of being able to claim we saw a legend in the making.
This article appeared first on I Bloody Love Football