Tall and lean, Busquets jogged languidly from the circle into the space between Madrid’s central midfield and defense. Messi’s return pass was sharp and direct. Busquets received the ball, pivoted and tapped it lightly. What seemed unthreatening a few seconds earlier now became a menacing give-and-go.
“I saw some options,” Messi said. “I always try to create danger.”
During the careers of the greats to whom Messi is most often compared — Pelé of Brazil and Diego Maradona, a fellow Argentine — the pace of the game was slower, with more space to operate and more chance for flamboyant playfulness in the flowing dribbles known as gambeta.
Today, soccer increasingly relies on size and muscle and speed. The best players must be able to operate in claustrophobic spaces. That is the mesmerizing skill of Messi, slithering through these airless openings in top gear, changing direction, providing as well as scoring, his left foot tapping the ball on each stride with blurred and evasive touches. At such moments, the ball becomes an extension of his foot.
I need to start watching more soccer.