In the spirit of the World Cup, which I have been enjoying so much lately (still am), here are some reflections on Lionel Messi’s magic.
Time and again I’m amazed by Messi’s magic on the field which is on display with a unique blend of genius, quietness, serenity and economy. He is obviously an enormously gifted player but his success must have other ingredients too. And no it’s not simply hard work and preparation either. So naturally, I got curious about his off the field practices and came across a number article mentioning that Messi practices meditation.
For the record, Argentina do not have a shrink in their squad, but they have their own ways of preparing for a game. Team officials say Messi meditates before and after a match in order to keep his mind fresh. (see For Manuel Llorens, it’s mind over matter)
See also this post in Huffington Post: “Is this the secret to Lionel Messi’s success?”
Relaxation techniques are scientifically proven to reduce stress. But more importantly, when Messi takes a few moments before a big game to relax, he will be increasing his awareness and his ability to be present. On the pitch, he’s not thinking about the pressure of the moment, or what will happen if he misses, or the millions watching at home on TV. He’s simply thinking about the present. And that is perhaps what allows him to showcase his skills so effectively.
Walking to Stay One Step Ahead
And now some real statistics to prove that he achieves his magic with the least amount of effort. It’s not about efforting or working hard! It’s really about being present in the moment in order to be able to be your best. Otherwise you would be fighting against yourself!
If Messi on the ball is the greatest spectacle in the game, Messi off the ball is one of the most mysterious. It’s fascinating to watch him and try to see the game through his eyes.
The first thing that strikes you is that, most of the time, he appears to be doing very little indeed. He loiters at an angle to the play. He drifts disinterestedly in the spaces between defenders. The only signs of alertness are those sharp, hawkish swivels of the head, as he stores a mental image of what’s over his shoulder. Then he darts toward empty space—the logic of his movement only becoming apparent two passes later, when the ball arrives at his feet. The wonder is that somehow he exerts this gravitational pull on the play while seldom even breaking into a trot.
FIFA’s post-match data confirmed the impression that Messi had expended less energy to exert more influence than anyone else on the field. He moved 10.7 kms in 130 minutes of game time, meaning he covered less ground than any other outfield player who completed the match. He also spent less time engaged in medium- and high-intensity activity than any other outfielder. And his 31 sprints were fewer than any other outfielder who completed the match except Federico Fernández and Fabian Schär, who are both central defenders.
Compare these figures with those of other star forwards in the second round. When Brazil beat Chile on penalties, Neymar ran almost 3 kms more than Messi did against Switzerland. He spent 21 minutes in medium- or high-intensity activity, compared with Messi’s nine. He completed nearly twice as many sprints—57 to 31. And despite this frenetic physical output, he barely figured in the latter stages of the game. Thomas Müller’s numbers from Germany’s win over Algeria tell a similar story: 20 minutes of medium- or high-intensity running, 56 sprints, and nothing like Messi’s decisive impact.
No doubt Messi’s economy of effort was part of the reason why he had the strength, in the 118th minute, to accelerate beyond the exhausted challenge of Schär and roll that precise assist into the path of di María. Messi’s run to set up the goal was clocked at 27.58 km/hr, and it was the fastest he had moved in the match.
To say that Messi limits his running because he wants to save his energy for when he really needs it is probably true, but misses a larger point. Lots of players know how to pace themselves. Only Messi has figured out how to win matches by moving less than everyone else. While the others are running just to keep up, Messi only has to walk to stay one step ahead.
If you are not practicing meditation yet; well, aren’t you at least curious?