Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

For One Night at Least, Another Towers over Messi

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

For One Night at Least, Another Towers over Messi

Article excerpt

Lionel Messi shared the stage with much taller Abby Wambach as they were named the best players in soccer in 2012.

What a striking couple Lionel Messi and Abby Wambach cut at the world player of the year gala in Zurich. And what a difference in their fortunes.

Messi continues to score more goals than any man in his game, and to reap the financial rewards commensurate to being the outstanding player of his generation. His fellow professionals gave him more votes for the FIFA Ballon d'Or in 2012 than the next two players combined -- yet his teams won nothing during the calendar year.

Wambach won everything she plays for, leading the United States to Olympic gold in London. Yet she enters the new year technically unemployed, as a professional player, following the collapse of the Women's Professional Soccer league in the United States last year. (There are plans for another league in the United States, but the new venture is at least a year away.)

At 25, Messi is on the cusp of that great period in sporting life when physical capability merges with experience on the field. He has signed up with Barcelona for the rest of his playing career, and he does what he said in his acceptance speech in Zurich on Monday: He plays for the joy of it.

At 32, and with nowhere to play professionally in her country, Wambach may have to go abroad to see out her prime, and to earn a living at what she does best.

Maybe soccer is still what it was when the magazine France Football set up an award for individual honors in a team game. The first recipient, in 1956, was the English wizard of the wing, Stanley Matthews. The second was Alfredo Di Stefano, the great Argentine playing for Real Madrid.

And down the decades, before and after FIFA appropriated France Football's Ballon d'Or as its own, it remained predominantly masculine. Johan Cruyff, Michel Platini, Marco van Basten and Ronaldo de Lima: All indisputably left their imprint by becoming the recipients of multiple Ballons d'Or.

On Monday, little Leo Messi, looking so dandy in his polka-dot tuxedo, eclipsed them all in terms of numbers. He now holds an unprecedented four world player of the year awards, and we do not need to catalogue, again, the records he keeps on breaking.

In any case, counting his goals does not give us the measure of the man and the pleasure he gives and gets from being a team player.

Little Leo? In size, maybe. With Wambach nudging the diminutive Brazilian, Marta, off the top of the women's game, Monday also gave us a telling picture of sexual equality in reverse.

This has to be the first time that the female honoree has towered physically over the male on the soccer stage. As they stood side by side, each holding their golden ball, Abby dwarfed Leo.

She is 1.8 meters, or 5-foot-11. He is 1.68 meters in his shoes.

She weighs in at 77 kilograms, or 170 pounds. He tips the scales at 67 kilograms.

They are, according to votes cast in every country among national team coaches, national captains and journalists, the figures and faces of the year just ended. …

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