A somewhat dispirited series of highly-anticipated matches between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid was elevated to high art through the remarkable play of the remarkable Lionel Messi. If you didn’t see his goals in Wednesday’s game — the second one in particular is a thing of sublime beauty — check them out
The matches have been dispiriting because Jose Mourinho (Madrid’s coach) made the tactical decision to play the most conservative brand of static football imaginable, in the hopes of suffocating Barcelona’s attack. He’s got no faith, as my son Sam put it, that his players can compete with Barcelona if both teams are attacking. Aside from the fact that the strategy is failing, it has deprived us of what could have been some magnificent games – Madrid showed last weekend, in demolishing a very good Valencia side (on the road, no less) 6 -3, that they have the potential to be a terrific attacking side, and a game in which the two teams were at their attacking best could been truly wonderful side to watch.
But at least — thank goodness — there’s Messi. I know I’ve said it before, but it does bear repeating – we’re lucky to be around to watch him. Those Madrid defenders he’s running by are not clumsy oafs, or statues – they are world-class soccer players, made to look like clumsy oafs and statues. And they’re not the ones with a ball bouncing around unpredictably at their feet!! Jordan, Gretzky, Ruth – sometimes someone not only is better than everyone else in the world at what they do, but better by a prodigious margin, and it’s really something to see.
And while I’m on the subject of spectacular feats on the athletic field: where did the often-repeated trope that “Hitting a baseball from a major league pitcher is the hardest thing to do in sports” come from?? It is demonstrably false. Think about the pitchers, when they’re at the plate. They’re pretty lousy hitters, as a rule – a batting average of .150 or even lower is the norm. But that means once or twice, in every ten at-bats, they not only manage to hit the ball, they hit it well enough to get a base hit! I know they’re terrific athletes, and that most of them spent a lot of time practicing their hitting as teenagers. But the hardest thing in all of sports!?? If that was the hardest thing to do in all of sports, surely we’d expect that people who hardly ever practice it wouldn’t be able to succeed at it, wouldn’t we?