Many observers from former players to fans have noted that Leonel Messi often walks around the field, especially when off the ball. However, Robin van Persie, former Netherlands and Arsenal striker, has a different spin to it.
“What is now getting attention is that he walks between all his actions. But he’s not walking at all. He is scanning. He is constantly looking at where the space is. He keeps taking pictures, he wants to know where the space is to be dangerous. That doesn’t always get attention, but this man is the only one who knows where all his teammates and all his opponents are,” van Persie told the De Telegraaf.
Van Persie says Messi’s greatness can be really sensed only during an on-field duel with him for the ball.
“My experience with Messi is that you only really see how good he is when you face him on the field. With Arsenal we played a double against Barcelona in the Champions League twice, I also met him with the Orange squad. Defending wasn’t my strong point, but I sometimes got into duels with him in midfield. When I was in the duel, I sometimes thought: now I have him, but then he would be gone in one go. He is so incredibly fast on the ball that you as an opponent wonder two seconds later what happened here? The moment you think you have it, it’s gone. You have the ball with every other player.”
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The best example in this world cup, explains Van Persie, came in the game against the Netherlands, when he came up with the magic assist to Nahuel Molina.
“The assist he gives for the first goal, he started with that a few seconds earlier in his head. At Orange, three central defenders were all three or four meters apart. The spaces were so small. But he had taken that photo a long time ago. The sight, the action, the sense of ball speed, he wraps everything in one package at that one moment. There is simply no defence against that.”
Van Persie says there have been many great players in footballing history but only Messi is a genius.
“You can put a man on him, but he still finds his space and sooner or later he makes the difference in the game. He is now showing that again during the World Cup. With everything that comes with it, because his age should play a role now and because of the pressure of his country, it is so tough mentally. He is simply above all players and it is fantastic that we have been able to enjoy him for so long with so many people in the world. I don’t want to get into the discussion about who is the greatest ever. There have been more great players, only he is a genius.”