Lionel Messi's gift

David Ramos

This is the story of an incorruptible footballing marvel, for whom the sport means more than fame, fortune and a lifetime supply of hair product

PROLOGUE IN HEAVEN

The LORD, the ANGELS. Afterwards MEPHISTOPHELES.

The angels step forward.

Raphael

The sun shines on, sustaining thy glorious creation, journeying through the heavens, inscrutable and unfathomable.

Gabriel

And the earth spins on, alternating the brilliance of day with the dark, fearful blanket of night. Water and rock make a rapid dance through the inky fabric of the cosmos, just as thou intended, O Lord.

Cristiano

And though storms roar and ferment with elemental power, thunderclaps shattering the very skies, we angels are unmoved, nary a hair out of place.

All

Thy sublime works are as magnificent as on the first day.

Mephistopheles

Well this is boring. The world does the same thing day after day. Have we ever considered doing anything interesting? Y'all are dullards in the extreme.

The Lord

Is that all thou hast to say to me? Nothing but petty complaints?

Mephistopheles

Oh come on. These losers do nothing but praise the fact that the sun exists and the earth spins around in little circles. There are so many toys to play with! Why don't we have a game. There's that human you like, right?

The Lord

The one called Messi.

Mephistopheles

That's him! How about a little wager? I bet I can corrupt him. Make him mine, taking him away from your shiny holiness or whatever. Deal?

The Lord

What thou chosest to do is thine own business, Mephistopheles. Nothing on the earth is forbidden to thee.

Mephistopheles

Excellent! Toodleloo!

Mephistopheles vanishes in a cloud of smoke

Gabriel

He doesn't know?

The Lord

Mephistopheles? No, he does not. He will find out...

* * *

LIONEL'S GIFT

Rosario, Argentina. 1992.

Lionel MESSI. Afterwards MEPHISTOPHELES.

A young boy with seemingly magical feet jinks his way through a crowd of much bigger defenders before firing into the bottom corner. The crowd gasps. Mephistopheles materialises next to one of the stands, looking on with great interest.

Two minutes later, Messi scores again, the final action before full time. Intrigued, Mephistopheles freezes time and strides out to meet the youngster.

Mephistopheles

Hello Lionel! A fine display.

Messi

I like football! Why do you have horns, mister? And why is everyone standing still?

Mephistopheles

Nevermind that, young Lionel. Here, have a treat.

Messi

Don't want treats! Want to play football.

Mephistopheles sighs.

Mephistopheles

Fine. Here is a new football. Don't worry, it's not a Jabulani.

Messi

Thanks mister. I want to play football all the time. To be the best at football!

Mephistopheles

Do you not want anything else?

Messi

I like football!

Mephistopheles

How old are you, Lionel?

Messi

Five, mister.

Mephistopheles

Well I'm sure the rest will come in time. Would you like me to help you become the best footballer in the world?

Messi

I bet I'm already better than you, mister. You don't look very good.

Mephistopheles

Try me.

Messi tries to dribble his new football past Mephistopheles, only to have the ball whisked off his feet. The child goes sprawling to the ground.

Messi

How did you do that? Nobody else can.

Mephistopheles

Meet me here in exactly six years, and I'll show you.

Messi

My mummy said not to trust strangers, mister.

Mephistopheles

I gave you a football. What has she ever given you, Lionel?

Messi accepts his new friends' impeccable knowledge, and the demon wanders off, unfreezing time after he's left the stadium. Six years pass, and the preternaturally talented player continues to improve. Although not at the pace he would like.

* * *

Rosario, Argentina. 1998.

Lionel MESSI, MEPHISTOPHELES.

Messi

Alright mister. You said to meet you here and now. Show me how to be the best footballer in the world.

Mephistopheles

Thank you for coming, Lionel. Are you sure you need my help? You're very good already.

Messi

Not good enough. I like football. I want to be better.

Mephistopheles

You want to be the best footballer in the world? To be a god amongst men? To have more money than Croseus, more fame than Alexander, more women than...

Messi interupts.

Messi

What? I don't care about that stuff. I just want to play football. What's your name again, mister?

Mephistopheles

Mephistopheles. But you, Lionel, can call me 'Stan'. Or 'Santa'. Or 'Miroslav'.

Messi

Alright mister Stan. So how are you going to make me better? Are you a coach?

Mephistopheles

No, no, no. Nothing like that. I'm going to give you a gift.

Messi

Oh! I do need a new football. A misshapen troll named Carlos stole mine a couple of years ago. He made me cry.

Mephistopheles

Not that sort of gift, Lionel. More of an exchange, actually.

Messi

Huh?

Mephistopheles

Here's the deal. You will become the greatest player ever to live. Diego Maradona's talent shall seem puny and pathetic compared to yours. Pele will be so overwhelmed by your skills that he's reduced to a blubbering, inchoate shell of a man. You will rise to the very pinnacle of the game, and when you've achieved all you've set out to, I shall possess your immortal soul and you will spend eternity in a place of terror and damnation.

Messi

What was that last part?

Mephistopheles

Nothing important.

Messi

Ok. I just want to be the best at football. Nothing else matters, right?

Mephistopheles

Indeed, young Lionel.

Messi

Then I agree to your bargain, mister Stan.

Mephistopheles

Excellent.

A piece of parchment appears in Mephistopheles' hands. Ink spiders its way onto the page. He hands Messi a pen.

Sign this contract.

Messi

Done.

Mephistopheles

A deal! A wise choice, young man. I have influence at a major club in Europe. Their representatives will be along to assist you and your family shortly.

* * *

Heaven. 1998.

The LORD, the ANGELS.

Raphael

Mephistopheles has the child? What are we to do, O Lord?

The Lord

Worry thyselves not. For as I said years ago, he has made a grave miscalculation.

Raphael

Art thou sure, O Lord?

The Lord

Thou doubt my wisdom? If thine eyes espy a different future to that while I know...

All

Of course not, O Lord. But thy wisdom is not easily understood, even by the likes of us.

The Lord

Should one of my servants wish to go to earth to keep an eye on the boy, I would find that acceptable.

Cristiano

I'll go, O Lord. As long as my hair is not mussed.

The Lord

Thy hair will remain perfect, Cristiano. Go, if thou should wish. A vessel has already been prepared for thee in Lisbon.

Cristiano

As thou command, O Lord.

Cristiano vanishes.

* * *

Barcelona, Spain. September 27th, 2005.

MEPHISTOPHELES, Frank RIJKAARD. In the distance, Lionel MESSI.

Mephistopheles

What do you think, Frank?

Rijkaard

He has a long way to go, my lord, but he's obviously got the talent to get there.

Mephistopheles

Good. Nurture him. Guide him. Reward him handsomely for his successes. There will be many. Give him a taste for worldly pleasures. There will be failures too. Use them to motivate him, to spur him to new heights.

Messi turns an Udinese defender inside out before finding Ronaldinho with a clever, flicked pass.

Rijkaard

Of course, my lord.

* * *

* * *

Madrid, Spain. November 29th, 2010.

Lionel MESSI, CRISTIANO Ronaldo.

Messi

I like football. Football is grand. Like, playing football is super-great. Also, you have really nice hair.

Cristiano

I despise thee, agent of Satan!

Messi

You mean Stan. But why so glum? You played well. We all lose sometimes. You're supernaturally talented, and get to play this wonderful game for a living. Don't you just love football?

Cristiano

Thou speakest falsehoods! How much money dost thou earn? Fame, fortune and excellent hair is what moves men, even men such as ourselves.

Messi

I just want to get better at football, Crissy. That other stuff doesn't interest me at all.

Cristiano

Liar!

Messi

Suit yourself. I'm off to play some more football.

* * *

Hell. 2011.

MEPHISTOPHELES, a helper IMP wearing a Manchester City kit.

Mephistopheles

I don't understand. How much money did he turn down?

Imp

We offered him our whole budget, sir.

Mephistopheles

And still he still spurned us?

Imp

We didn't even get past his agent. He just said 'Lionel is enjoying his football and has no interest in moving on'. I think it might have been an automated message.

Mephistopheles

What sort of man is he?

Imp

Someone who likes football far too much. Why don't you intervene directly? He might listen to you.

Mephistopheles

No, that's against the rules of the contract. This situation is becoming... problematic.

* * *

* * *

Seville, Spain. December 9th, 2012.

Lionel MESSI, MEPHISTOPHELES.

Messi

Oh hi mister Stan. Good game today, eh?

Messi idly picks up a pair of footballs and starts juggling them both.

Mephistopheles

Gerd Mueller' record falls, Lionel. Everyone regards you as the greatest footballer ever to live, playing for the best team in the history of the world. Wouldn't you agree that you've reached the pinnacle of the sport?

Messi

Eh?

Mephistopheles

The deal we had?

Messi

But I had at least twenty-seven sub-optimal touches today. I could have done more to help the defence against Betis. We should have won by more; it was nervous towards the end. I'm glad I broke the record so Barcelona supporters will be happy, but I can still keep getting better.

Football's great like that.

Mephistopheles

You are impossible.

Mephistopheles pulls a face, then vanishes in a cloud of smoke.

Messi

Bye mister Stan! Visit more!

* * *

Heaven. December 9th, 2012.

The LORD, MEPHISTOPHELES.

Mephistopheles

What. Is. He.

The Lord

A little boy who loves football beyond all things. He is exactly as he says, Mephistopheles.

Mephistopheles

You knew.

The Lord

Of course. How did thou not realise as soon as thou encountered him? Lionel hast not changed since thou first met.

Mephistopheles

All are corruptible! Even your precious Cristiano falters under the allure of money, women and an infinite supply of gel.

The Lord

Not him. He is different, even from his teammates. Xavi craves righteousness. Cesc Fabregas recognition. Sergio Busquets, Dani Alves, the rest, they all hunger for money and victory and fame, ambitions from which thou might ensare them. Lust cannot hold him, nor greed, nor even expensive hair products. Lionel wants to play football. Nothing else.

Mephistopheles

I will have him regardless. I will!

The Lord

Thou shalt not! Thou agreed to bring him to the pinnacle of football, but thou did not understand thine own bargain! for Lionel, the pinnacle is unreachable. Every touch can be improved, every movement analysed and then bettered. Each and every day the boy strives to become more than himself. Win a trophy, and he shall try to win it again. Score a great goal, and he shall attempt a better one. He cares for nothing but being the best.

Mephistopheles

He's already the best!

The Lord

That is true, Mephistopheles. But Lionel will never be content, because he knows that should he work hard, he will awake every day greater than he did the last. He strives for unreachable perfection, not transient flashes of glory.

Mephistopheles

He will retire someday.

The Lord

And thou shalt still not have him! Lionel will spend his days thinking about football, coaching, learning, training. He will not think himself so great if he cannot impart his understanding of the game to his successors. Thou erred badly when thou chose him for thy wager. It is impossible to win.

Mephistopheles

I gave him the gift of unearthly talent, let him provide joy to millions around the world... for nothing? This was your plan all along?

The Lord

It was a good plan, wasn't it?

Mephistopheles

I really hate you.

Mephistopheles vanishes in a puff of smoke.

* * *

Barcelona, Spain. December 10th, 2012.

Lionel MESSI.

It's 9 pm. Everyone else has gone home. But the best player in the world is still on the floodlight-illuminated pitch, preparing for Sunday's match against Atletico Madrid.

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