There are bad, average, good and great players and if anyone had forgotten that Lionel Messi was firmly within the brickwork of footballing greatness then his 5 goals against Bayer Leverkusen must have come as a stark reminder.
Without doubt Messi is one of the, if not the, best players of all time and is rightly ranked amongst Diego Maradona, Pele and Zinedine Zidane.
His ability is obvious and it would be difficult to pick a weakness in his game, however what sets him apart from the rest?
More significantly, what makes a player great?
Well, having the ability to produce significant moments which have an effect on the outcome of a match is a key trait to great players.
They must also possess more strengths than weaknesses and to be considered a real great player they have to show their class on a consistent basis.
There is however, a basic aspect of their play which is often overlooked.
Many believe that a combination of all the traditional physical and technical attributes are essential in a top player but what helps them become fundamentally great is their natural instinct to play forward at all times.
Players may run or pass into trouble and eventually lose the ball, but one who is able to consistently advance up the park will more often than not have a greater effect on a match than a player who plays side to side or backwards.
The legendary Zinedine Zidane highlighted Messi’s insistence to look forward at every opportunity as a key part of what makes him so good.
Whether Messi takes the ball from deep or is running on to a through ball his first touch always goes forward and that allows him to accelerate, dip and weave his way past defenders with much more ease.
Momentum has much to do with the Argentine’s play and the pace in which he is able to terrorise defences make him such a huge threat.
Zidane, Maradona, Cruyff and now Xavi all demonstrate the ability to play forward, immediately pressurising opposition defences.
It is understandable that players like Xavi Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Andrea Pirlo are needed to link defence to attack so understandably, much of their passing is done from side to side or backwards.
Their approach has a different purpose and they are immense in their own way but a sign of the true great players is their positive attacking attitude.
If you look at every single goal Messi scored against Leverkusen, he moves forward with his first touch and continues forward before reaching the goal.
This is what makes him and so many other players great.
An individual can be blessed with fierce shooting, pacey dribbling and assured passing but if they don’t demonstrate a hunger and drive to attack the goal, these attributes become redundant.
Patience is a key part of football but there is no substitute for heading straight to goal.
Messi has shown that to be great you have to move forward. Only then can a player show the true extent of his greatness.
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