Where’s the fun in sports if you can’t let rip with some wild hyperbole every now and again? Lionel Messi, a 5'7 soccer player born in Argentina but playing for Barcelona, is the best sportsman alive. This is not wild hyperbole; this is mathematics. What’s more – applying the laws of probability – he may very well be the most admired human being on the planet.
The fact is that far more people play soccer than any other sport; more people play soccer than play basketball, baseball, American football, tennis, golf and – for that matter – chess, the piano and the violin combined. To get to the top in soccer, where Messi stands alone, you’ve beaten off competition from the hundreds upon hundreds of millions who have kicked a ball in anger and dreamed, in their childhoods, of being what the short, fey, not blindingly handsome, personally unexciting 25-year-old superstar – officially recognized as world player of the year the last three times in a row – has beyond a shadow of a doubt become. He is arguably the most admired of individuals for the simple reason that more people talk and think about soccer than they do about any other subject available to human discourse. In terms of global name recognition he is right up there with Barack Obama, the Queen of England and Nelson Mandela, and – yes – way ahead of Kobe Bryant.