Measuring Soccer ‘Genius’ Lionel Messi Against The All-Time Best, And Worst

Argentine-born Lionel Messi has just been named FIFA’s player of the year for the third year running, further proof that the 24-year-old Barcelona striker is already a living legend. But who was the soccer world’s worst player in 2011?

In Buenos Aires, Argentina (above) Lionel Messi enjoys larger than life hero status
In Buenos Aires, Argentina (above) Lionel Messi enjoys larger than life hero status
Fred Hirzel

GENEVA -- It's next to impossible to think of something original to write about Lionel Messi, who at just 24 years of age has just been awarded FIFA's Ballon d'Or – and thus recognized as the world's greatest soccer player – for the third consecutive year. Only France's Michel Platini, who won the award in 1983, 84 and 85, ever accomplished such a feat.

I could write that the Argentine star is a tiny genius, that he has the trickiest and most inventive left foot since Diego Maradona, his legendary compatriot. But everyone knows that already. Or I could say that he's a freak of nature. Indeed, he suffered from a kind of dwarfism as a child. But that's hardly a scoop either.

So, instead of resorting to all the normal clichés or lauding Messi with heaps of well-deserved superlatives, I'm just going to let Johan Cruyff, a soccer giant in his own right, do the talking for me. "Messi will be the player who ends up winning the most Ballon d'Or trophies in history," Cruyff, a three-time Ballon d'Or winner, told the Argentine newspaper Olé. "He'll win five, six, seven! There's no one that compares to him. He plays in another dimension."

Bixente Lizarazu, a member of France's 1998 World Cup champion team, says Messi's worth his weight in gold. "Messi's a genius," said Lizarazu, currently a commentator with the French channel TF1. Compared to the Ballon d'Or runner up, Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, Messi has "something extra…an ability to switch between an individual and the team style of play that makes him more versatile than Cristiano. His game is more surprising," said Lizarazu.

The third place finisher was Xavi Hernández, one of Messi's Barcelona teammates. If it weren't for Messi, most soccer experts agree, Hernández would likely have won his own Ballon d'Or award by now, especially in 2010, when he anchored Spain's World Cup championship team. But then, as now, his path was blocked by the Argentine ace.

And the worst player award goes to…

Alchemists once tried to turn lead into gold. I'm going to attempt the opposite by turning my attention now to the "Ballon de Plomb" (lead ball), a parody award for the world's most disappointing player. On Monday, the Cahiers du Football website gave the dubious distinction to Moussa Maazou of Nigeria. The runner up was André-Pierre Gignac of France.

On loan to Bordeaux from CSKA Moscow, Maazou was banished by the French team for being abusive towards the club and its supporters. He then joined Monaco but soon injured his knee, putting him out of commission for six months. He was finally sent on loan to Waregem in Belgium, where he insisted publicly that he was every bit as good as the players from Real Madrid or Barcelona, Spain's powerhouse teams. Soon after Waregem announced it wanted to break its contract with Maazou and, according to the Cahiers du Footall site "claim compensation for the paucity of services provided."

It's almost as much fun to talk about the goats as the greats. But always better, of course, to root for the gold.

Read the original article in French

Photo - Adam Jones, Ph.D

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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