The focusing ability of an extraterrestrial canine

by Cesar Chelala

By topping Gerd (“Torpedo”) Muller’s record of goals scored in a year, Lionel Messi only confirmed what many people until now believed to be the truth: He doesn’t belong to planet Earth, he is an extraterrestrial being.

Gerard Piqué — famous for being one of the best players on the FC Barcelona team, and for having Shakira, the Colombian singer, as a partner — believes that Messi is probably the best player ever.

Messi has already won FIFA’s Golden Ball (Ballon d’Or) three times. It’s given to the best player of the season. After beating Muller’s record, Messi will probably win the award for the fourth time. His close competitor, Cristiano Ronaldo, has won it once, but few people are betting on him.

In an interview with radio station RAC1, Pique declared: “I respect those that believe Cristiano Ronaldo deserves the Golden Ball, but I interact with Leo. I see him as an extraterrestrial, and Cristiano as the best of humans. I was also [Ronaldo's] teammate in Manchester United. He is a hard worker, very good, but he is nowhere next to Messi.”

One of the few that believes Ronaldo may be this year’s winner is Jose Mourinho, Real Madrid’s manager. “It would be a crime if Cristiano didn’t win the Ballon d’Or,” Mourinho told A Bola, a Portuguese sports newspaper. “If Messi is the best in the world, it’s only because Cristiano is from another planet. He wasn’t born in Madeira [a Portuguese archipelago, Ronaldo's birthplace] but on Mars.”

Although one may disagree with Mourinho about who is a better player, one should agree with what he says about Ronaldo: “If Cristiano doesn’t win it this year, it will be because of his image. He doesn’t sell himself well and he isn’t always a nice guy.”

Indeed, while Ronaldo is often arrogant and boastful, Messi is quiet and takes things in stride.

What explains Messi’s unique abilities — the fact that he became the world’s best player and the one who beat Muller’s record? The best explanation may be an article written by Argentine journalist Hernán Casciari, published in his blog and ironically titled “Messi is a dog.”

Casciari, who doesn’t hide his admiration for Messi, tells how, after watching several Messi goals on YouTube, he realized that Messi plays as if in a trance, hypnotized. His only wish appears to be seeing the ball in the opposing team’s goal.

He continues: “We must look well into his eyes to understand this. He looks cross-eyed at the ball as if reading an out-of-focus subtitle. He focuses on it and does not lose sight of it even if they knife him.

“Where had I seen that look before? In whom? I knew that gesture of supreme introspection. I pressed the pause key in the video. I zoomed in on Messi’s eyes. Then I remembered: Those were the eyes of Totín when he became crazy for the sponge.

“I had a dog in childhood named Totín. Nothing moved him. He wasn’t a smart dog. One time thieves came in and he just watched them carry out the TV. If a buzzer sounded, he didn’t hear it. I vomited and he didn’t come over to lick it.

“However, when someone (my mother, my sister, myself) grabbed a sponge — a yellow sponge for washing dishes — Totín got mad. He wanted that sponge more than anything in the world. He wanted with all his heart to take that yellow rectangle to the doghouse. I would show it to him, holding it in my right hand, and he focused on it. I moved the sponge from side to side, and he never stopped looking at it. He couldn’t stop looking at it.

“No matter how fast I moved the sponge, Totín’s neck moved with equal speed through the air. His eyes seemed to take on a Japanese look, attentive, intellectual — like the eyes of Messi, who ceased to be those of a reckless teen and, for a fraction of a second, had the searching look of Sherlock Holmes.

“I discovered this afternoon, watching that video, that Messi is a dog. Or a man-dog. That’s my theory. I regret your having read this far with better expectations. Messi is the first dog ever to play soccer.”

And this seems like the best explanation of Messi’s talent.

Cesar Chelala, M.D. and Ph.D., is an Argentine writer living in New York.