Adidas’s 2014 FIFA commercial “The Dream: All In or Nothing” stars the fiercely determined Argentine footballer Lionel Messi and is backed by the braggadocious vocals of rapper Kanye West, who repeatedly chants: “You don’t see murder like this, this often…god-level.”
More often than not, Kanye’s brags border on hyperbole, but that is not the case when describing Messi. The footballer remains the biggest global star left in the World Cup. With 407 goals in his professional career, he’s one of the two highest-paid players in the game and the winner of four Ballon d’Or trophies given to the sport’s MVPs.
Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight recently authored a piece titled “Lionel Messi Is Impossible” in which he analyzes Messi’s performance in great detail, only to arrive at the inevitable conclusion: Messi is the best player in the world.
Guillem Balague, author of Messi, says that the the 27-year-old carries the hopes of a nation on his young shoulders: “Failure to win a World Cup before he retires will leave him feeling that he let down his country, his family, his friends, but principally, himself.”
But Messi is no stranger to adversity. At the age of 11, he was diagnosed with a debilitating growth hormone deficiency:
“I had to start a treatment to help me to grow. Every night I had to stick a needle into my legs, night after night after night, every day of the week, and this over a period of three years. I was so small, they said that when I went onto the pitch, or when I went to school, I was always the smallest of all. It was like this until I finished the treatment and I then started to grow properly.” – Lionel Messi
And that was just the start of his problems. The treatment cost $1500 per month, far in excess of what the Messi family could afford. At the age of 13, Messi compelled his family to uproot their lives in Argentina and move to Barcelona, where he’d play for the only club in the world that offered to pay for his treatment. The unity of his family was impacted by this, and temporarily caused a rift between his parents.
Through adversity, one can gain heightened perspective – goals become clearer, motivations are defined and subsequent pain & discomfort is dealt with much more swiftly.
Former team-mate Gerardo Grighini recalls Messi’s tedious growth hormone treatment:
“Week after week after week, every day. Before going to sleep. Seven days in one leg, seven days in the other. And he did it quite naturally, just like that. I don’t think just anyone has the mental strength when they’re only 10 or 11 to say ‘I’m going to do this because it’s going to help me in the future’… but he knew it would help him fulfill his dream.”
“The early struggles have shaped Messi,” says Balague, “whose stolen adolescence was spent in training grounds and trips to matches.” Thrust into the kiln of adversity as a child, the pursuit of football greatness required Messi, and his family, to make continuous sacrifices that nearly destroyed them.
But through the adversity, Messi was able to shore up his ambition, nurture a killer instinct and ultimately achieve what West describes as ‘god level’.
Read Balague’s short piece on Messi’s improbable progression from struggling youngster to world super star over at The Telegraph.
This post was originally published on Year One.