Lionel Messi of Argentina gestures during an international football invitational between Argentina and Australia in Beijing, capital of China, June 15, 2023.

Lionel Messi’s latest piece of genius should come with an X-rated certificate

Lionel Messi can fill stadiums across the world and Wednesday was no different.

Tickets for Argentina’s friendly against Australia in the 68,000-capacity Worker’s Stadium in Beijing were snapped up in no time. Of course they were; Messi was in town.

In an age where individual footballers are supported with the frenzied devotion of Nadine Dorries pining after Boris Johnson, Messi remains the ultimate draw (sorry Cristiano).

And, with Argentina filling their time since Qatar 2022 with an extended victory lap, their match against Australia provided the perfect showcase for their GOAT to strut his stuff.

You’ll have already seen his jaw-dropping goalzo which, timed at 79 seconds, was the fastest of his career and reminded us of his eternal greatness.

But one side-effect of genius is the ability to make the extra-terrestrial seem positively ridiculous, the only viable response being to laugh out loud and wonder what you did right in a past life for the privilege of witnessing it.

As Messi picked up possession in the second half, he proceeded to weave his way through a befuddled pack of Australian defenders like a skiing expert on a French piste.

One opponent attempted a one-armed bear hug to stop Messi in his tracks, but failed in his mission. Two more were tied in knots by his bewitching footwork and hips that’d leave Shakira contemplating retirement.

As you’d expect, Messi’s moment of wonder earnt a wave of adulation from the Beijing crowd; seeing such awe-inspiring moments of sporting skill should never be taken for granted.

Messi confirmed that he doesn’t intend to help Argentina defend their world title in North America in 2026, but does want to continue playing for the national side in the meantime.

Speaking in a press conference ahead of their 2-0 victory, Argentina boss Lionel Scaloni told reporters: “His statements seem to me to be very prudent and he is not lying. The reality is that he’s going to see what happens.

“We’re going to follow his progress and I think it’s the logical thing to do. The World Cup is so far away and he is very cautious. The important thing is that he feels good and that he wants to play.

“With the passage of time we will see how he is and if he feels up to it, which is the important thing because he will know how to play football today and in ten years’ time.”

Messi has recently confirmed he’ll move to Inter Miami following two decidedly mixed seasons with PSG.

And Scaloni appeared glad that Messi would be turning out for a team that fully appreciates him, telling reporters: “I’m happy that he has chosen to play for a club in a city that I think will treat him wonderfully, where he will be happy playing football, which is what we all want.

“Regardless of the league or the country, it is important that he feels good, in the league and at the club. And I think he’s going to have the conditions to do well there, which is what it’s all about.

“He has earned it and he deserves it”.

The 35-year-old is favourite for this year’s Ballon d’Or after his heroics in Qatar, but insisted that individual awards have never held any personal allure.

“Does the Ballon d’Or matter to me? No, it’s no longer important to me,” he told Titan Sports in China.

“I’ve always said, the individual prizes are not what matters to me, but the collective ones are the most important. The most important prize at the moment is the World Cup, the greatest prize for me.”

Talk of Ballon d’Ors and future World Cups can wait; we should just enjoy Messi while we still can.

By Michael Lee

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