The New Times (Kigali)

18 January 2013

Rwanda: Learning From Lionel Messi and Barcelona

column

That Lionel Messi is one of the greatest footballers of all time is beyond doubt. The recent unveiling of Argentine star as the FIFA Ballon d'Or winner for 2012, confirmed him as the best footballer on earth for an unprecedented fourth consecutive year. And he did this in style, scoring 95 goals in 2012. Debate is on as to whether it is a record or not, but there's no debate that it is no mean feat.

Messi's brilliance on the ball is such that one journalist put it, comparing any other footballer (perhaps except, Cristiano Ronaldo) to Messi is simply not being fair. There are no sufficient superlatives to describe his exploits on the pitch.

But it was not always like that. Indeed, one would say that Messi is the most unlikely of candidates to be accorded the accolades, which he so amply merits and wins today.

Lionel Messi was born in Rosario, central Argentina, to a factory steel worker while his part time cleaner wife. Despite His father encouraged him to start playing active football at the tender age of five. He joined, Grandoli, a children's soccer club, coached by his father.

As fate would have it, at the age of 11, Lionel or Leo as he is oft called was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. The medical condition is caused by the pituitary gland's inability to produce enough growth hormones. In children, the primary symptom of this condition is growth failure.

Psychological symptoms include poor memory, social withdrawal and depression, while physical symptoms may include loss of strength, stamina, and muscles. Not the kind of symptoms that show great promise of a career in football.

Yet despite this, Argentina's River Plate FC was interested in Messi's progress but lacked enough money to pay for treatment of his condition, which cost approximately 640,000RwF every month.

Luckily, Leo's relatives in Spain approached FC Barcelona's sporting director Cales Rexach and made him aware of the young boy's talent.

He arranged for Messi to have a trial with the team's sporting academy. Barcelona offered to pay for Messi's medical bills if he was willing to move to Spain.

Messi and his father moved to Spain where he enrolled in the club's youth academy in 2000. Four years later, at a tender age of 17, he earned his league debut against Espanyol in 2004 where he became an instant hit.

So good was he that barely five years later he was voted the best player in the world - a feat that he has maintained for four years in a row.

Messi's career growth is laden with lessons that all of us can learn from. Beyond talent, the lad has been playing football since he was five.

Experience and practice: How many 25-year-olds can boast of 20 years' experience? As a matter of fact it is the typical university graduates complaint. It doesn't matter what you do; you can rise to the top with sufficient practice.

As Aristotle once said, we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit. Messi has been willing to grow and learn.

And once you prove to be the best, it does not matter which handicaps you may face, the world will be willing to overlook them, or as in the case of Messi, help you to overcome them.

Systems and networks: Perhaps we have had a Messi (not just in football) around but we neither had the system nor the networks to recognize and harness the talent. How do we else do we explain the brain drain we experience whilst in need of the same minds that we lose? We need to do this to curb the wastage that we callously fail to notice.

Think Long term and take risks: Barcelona was investing in the boy with a growth defect. Quite a risk (some would say a stupid waste of money). But they were looking ahead..far ahead, and look how far they came because of that 'gamble'

Kiswahili has a nice saying for this; ukiona vyaelea vimeundwa (when you see ships floating know that somebody built them.Glory comes with work (and risks)

Ronnie Oldham say that: "Excellence is the result of caring more than others think is wise, risking more than others think is safe, dreaming more than others think is practical, and expecting from life more than others think is achievable."

Those who seek nothing but the best tend to get it.

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