Ever since Barcelona and Pep Guardiola invented football in 2009, the praise has come full and fast, a blue and purple tsunami of love for unparalleled genius.
And it's fair enough. Xavi is the best midfielder of his day, Andres Iniesta the most elegant, able to pass, trick and score with effortless beauty. The most extensive gush is reserved for Lionel Messi. A genius, apparently, but is he actually any good?
People constantly praise the ability he has in that special left foot. Yeah, that special left foot, but not both his feet. The man is half a genius. He plays with his left foot wherever possible because he is a coward. If he were a true genius he would be able to pass as well, shoot as well, or feint as well with his right foot as he could his left. His cowardice prevents him from using his right and embracing his weaknesses. Look at a true great: Michael Owen. Say what you want about him, but he's never been afraid to shank a weak shot ten yards wide with his left foot.
Latterday received wisdom is that Messi's only real competitor for the title of the greatest player ever is his Argentine counterpart, Diego Maradona. Tish and fipsy, Maradona is streets ahead, both on and off the pitch, the combination sealing his superiority by a clear distance. Maradona dragged an average Napoli side to a legendary title win, their first, second and only Scudetti. Napoli were not a bad side by any stretch of the imagination, but they were no Barcelona. Without Messi, Barcelona have Pedro, Villa, Busquets, Mascherano, Xavi, Iniesta and Pique to get by on. They'd in all likelihood still win the league or run Real Madrid close. It wouldn't be far fetched to say that without Messi, Barcelona would still have the strongest squad in the world.
Not Maradona, though. Take Maradona out of the Napoli side and there would be no chance for that team to win the league. That's why Maradona shows up Lionel Messi as a footballing charlatan.
But that's not the end of it. Maradona is reported to have spent much of his time at Napoli abusing cocaine. Now, if Maradona could play so exceptionally, defining a decade, all while suffering the side effects of drug abuse, then surely without the handicap he would have been even better.
The trouble didn't end there. He allegedly cultivated a close relationship with the Neapolitan mafia, he missed so much training he was fined $70,000 - in those days, that's not far off the scale of fine handed to Carlos Tevez. He even fathered an illegitimate son. Did that stop him? No. Napoli's championships bookended two runners up placings, a UEFA Cup and a season as top scorer. He even found time to vaccinate Milan with a twenty-five yard header. He was always able to treat his personal affairs as nothing but background music. Clean-living Messi, on the other hand, is at his peak, totally focused on football.
Maradona's most telling showing up of the Messi praise is his performance in international games. In 1986, Maradona scored five goals, made five assists while captaining his side to a World Cup.
How did Lionel Messi get on in 1986? He didn't even play. But when he did play, in 2010, Argentina were a shambles. Granted, their preparations had included calling up 36-year-old Martin Palermo. They were managed by a loose cannon on an extended comedown (Maradona again), but they still had Tevez, Aguero, Demichelis and the mighty Jonas Gutierrez at right-back, and got nowhere. The blame must lie solely with Lionel Messi. He's just not good enough to inspire.
Lionel Messi: is he that good? Just look at his scoring records. Last season he scored 53 goals in 55 appearances. Undeniably impressive but understandable given the hard yards he makes everyone run for him at Barcelona. This year, he's scored 26 goals in just 22 games. I know what you're thinking, it's an improvement. But wait a moment, isn't this instructive of his massive selfishness? The traits of egotism reflected in the fact that only he believes he is worthy of scoring?
In the past, Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldinho have been cast out for their problems with authority, but Lionel Messi has risen above that. He has decided that he is Barcelona's authority. Surely the team can't stay together at this rate, and it will be Messi to blame.
Egotistical, one-footed and definitely not as talented as Maradona. Those self-important bloggers have got this one wrong. Lastly, how many good corners can you remember Messi taking? Exactly.
Also, he's no use in a wall.
Alexander Netherton is editor of surrealfootball.com