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Jamal Musiala Is the Closest to Messi We Have Seen
I am not here to say Jamal Musiala is anywhere close to Messi in accomplishment or all time standing. I just want to say that his playing style is the nearest to Messi we have seen since Messi touched the game.
Despite their difference in sizes, Messi at 5'7" and Musiala at 6 foot, Surely I can't be the only one that watches Musiala play and feel immediate vibes that I am watching a young, right-footed Lionel Messi. Particularly in the quality of close control dribbling in tight spaces, the style in which he dribbles, and the startling success he has in entering duels against multiple defenders that look impossible, yet coming out with the ball more often than most do against cones.
A YouTube video like this somehow doesn't quite do it justice, but it offers a quick glimpse into what I mean by dribbling style and efficiency.
Notice how in that entire video, you can maybe count twice where Musiala attempts a scissor, step-over, or any other moves associated with beating a defender. His incredible success is because of his body feints, change of pace, and slight touches on the ball to evade multiple defenders at once. The same is true for Messi, perhaps the most proficient dribbler of our lifetime.
Musiala, still only 19, led the World Cup in average dribbles completed per game with 6.5. We're talking about a player who played just three games, yet he finished second at the world cup in total successful dribbles with 19, which was ahead of Messi and second to Mbappe. And the 13 dribbles he completed against Costa Rica is the second most ever for a single world cup game.
Here's a clip of just one moment from that game.
Watch that in slow motion, and you see the tiniest of touches at just the absolute last millisecond, the body feints timed to the perfect moment, the elegant balance to evade contact like he has access to a different source of gravity. Messi and Musiala dribble as if they are playing the game in reverse like they've seen a vision of what you will do next, so they know how to avoid your tackle at the perfect instance without revealing their secret.
And again, I know they look different physically; I am simply talking about styles here. There are many different dribbling styles.
You have the Kylian Mbappe and Adama Traore of the world, whose dribbling relies on their incredible pace. Then you have your Neymar, Ronaldinho, and so on, which you can call a Brazilian style, reliant on pure trickery and advanced dribbling moves to beat defenders. And finally, you have your Messi and Maradona style of dribbling, which may be the most difficult to replicate, explaining why it took so long for us to get from Maradona to Messi, and now Musiala when it comes to high-level success with that style. This type of dribbling relies on extreme ball control in tight spaces down to every inch, an innate sixth sense of where the defender will move next, and the utilization of body feints, more than the ball, to act as the primary means of deception. It is incredibly difficult to replicate, whereas the other styles we see more regularly.
We often see fast players who rely on pace to blow by defenders. We have all played with or against someone like this. But this is flawed because this style loses its effectiveness as players age and lose some of their athleticism. Think of the dribbling a young Cristiano Ronaldo used to do. Versus now, when he's lost all of that pace and is a below-average dribbler.
With the Brazilian style, you can master every trick in the book, manipulating the ball in ways to embarrass your opponent. We see this style the most because it is the most replicable. You put in the hours to learn all the tricks and flicks, and you'll see the results.
But to do what Maradona, Messi, and Musiala do on the ball is entirely God-given. That kind of kinetic mastery of your body and a ball in small spaces in relation to where your opponents are and where they are likely to move next is a genius in its own right. They rarely do step-overs, scissors, or any of the other moves. You can't teach it, you either have it or you don't, and at the highest level, we haven't seen anyone have "it" as much as Musiala does since Messi made his debut.
I hope Musiala, much like Messi did as he got older, will combine this innate .01 percentile dribbling mastery with incredible finishing and playmaking and become one of the all-time greats. Messi is my GOAT, and I am not here to argue that Musiala will come close to that. I am excited to see Musiala carry his torch and entertain the world with his playing style the way Messi has for nearly two decades and Maradona did before that.
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