Football: Why’s this so good? Wright Thompson on Lionel Messi

Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday was right around the corner and like every MJ fan in the world I was feeling nostalgic looking at highlights and reading articles then I stumbled on to Wright Thomson’s “Michael Jordan Has Not Left the Building” a feature about MJ’s 50th birthday and “whether there was still more asses to kick” as his subline stated. I loved the way Thompson was able to capture Jordan’s competitive desire years after he played his last game and that’s when I fell in love with Thompson’s work and I wanted more.

Then I came across a story he did on football superstar Lionel Messi and his hometown of Rosario, Argentina. That was when I realized that Thompson was doing exactly what i wanted to do in the future. He brings life to his words, he descriptions put you there with him, he leaves you yearning for more.

“In the imagination of guidebook writers, who see places as they should be but rarely as they are, there is a passionate love affair between the city of Rosario and its famous progeny, global soccer star Leo Messi.” 

That is his first line of the feature and as soon as I read that I knew he was the real deal, and he drew me in and had me reading the rest of this feature in a matter a seconds. The way he used passionate love affair made sense to me it spoke to be because football is more than just a game and he made that clear form the beginning.

He gives the reader and appetizer, then comes then comes the four course meal. The first course:

“Pulling into town, Paul and I searched for some sort of acknowledgement, casually at first. You know what I mean. Billy Cannon’s Heisman Trophy is on display in a Baton Rouge rib joint, and there’s a bar-turned-shrine in Brett Favre’s hometown. Signs all over the world let those who happen to rumble past know that this piece of dirt once produced greatness: a football hero, a rock star, an astronaut. Our first day in Rosario, we didn’t see a thing that indicated Messi grew up here. The next morning, eating gas station empanadas, we noticed a sports bar across the street, just a few blocks from Messi’s old neighborhood. On the windows, there were big photographs of Muhammad Ali, Maria Sharapova and Rafael Nadal. No Messi.

In the coming days, the pattern would repeat itself around town. You’d never know he was from Rosario. Not even at the first pitch where Messi ever played, which we found as the sun set on an urban moonscape of Soviet-style apartment blocks and howling dogs. On the wall outside, in bright colors and abstract lines, someone had spray-painted a graffiti mural. The headband and face looked familiar. Holy hell, I laughed. That’s Keith Richards. Then I saw enormous lips next to Keith, as another out-of-context face came into focus: Mick! On the spot where Messi first played, the Rolling Stones capture the imagination more than him.”

He managed to capture how his hometown doesnt even have any mention of the man who many consider the best player in the world, how can that be?

In many ways, he is a man without a country.

“He is fully Argentine in Barcelona but not completely one in Buenos Aires, since he came to Spain as a child,” continued Lagunas, whose magazine Panenka devoted an entire issue to exploring Messi and Rosario, “and the contrast between his amazing games with Barça and the not-so-good with his national team also helps this strange vision of the Argentine people. Unlike Maradona, who shows an ultra-typical Argentine personality, Argentine people find it difficult to recognize themselves in this little, shy, introverted, silent boy.”

Thompson uses interview perfectly in order to tell the real story and they portray real raw emotions from strangers and that raw emotion is also seen in his own writing. He isnt afraid to make a connection with his own life and it works because it makes the reader connect something in their own life to the feature story even if they have nothing in common with either person. Then he leaves us with a gem like this to keep us wondering:

“This is the road that took Messi away when he was a shy, homesick boy and the one that brings him back now that he’s a star. Flags flapped in the wind. Old women hawked produce. Sheet metal windmills pumped water, and I pictured the 13-year-old Messi making this drive with his father. Everything about the exterior of his life changed after that moment, at first for the worse, later for the better, but we can never know what happened inside. We settle for glimpses, like Messi retracing that long ago drive, three hours each way to spend a fleeting night, chasing the things he lost on this road.”

This feature is only a glimpse of Thompson’s work and I can say with all the confidence in the world that I want to eventually do what he does for a living.

To see the  feature click here.

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