Genius trumps sporting excellence

Pele was so good as to have left behind this huge national legacy.

Greatness and genius are not the same thing, sporting chroniclers often argue. The logic is if William Shakespeare towers over everyone else who wrote plays, he is clearly a genius although many others could be called greats. The ability to create masterpiece after masterpiece was his unique forte, which is why the world recognises the name instantly even after 400 years.

Genius is a word too often used in sporting parlance because the ‘now’ appears to be everything. It shouldn’t be. Today’s generation argues about who is greater — Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. Neither would figure in the list of soccer’s all-time greats. Only one name will top that list while another might merit comparison with the genius called Pele. Diego Maradona is right up there and not only because he helped Argentina win a World Cup off his own feet and his head, besides the ‘Hand of God’. You could toy with the names of Alfredo Di Stefano of Real Madrid, footballer and coach often called the most complete and influential soccer player of all time, Garrincha, winger, playmaker and goal creator without whom Pele may not have been able to get that far forward to shine as the game’s most lustrous star and striker ever, Zinedine Zidane, an attacking midfielder of such all round brilliance as to be a standout without having to be the glamorous lead striker, Johann Cruyff, Ferenc Puskas...the list is endless. But soccer genius — only Pele and Maradona please.

Sporting genius goes far beyond sporting excellence. So many athletes could be feted for their excellence but very few could be defined as a genius who transcended the sport and with that excellence helped transform it. Take Pete Sampras who may have won so many Grand Slams with his metronomic thoroughness. But, do we place him in the same bracket as Roger Federer, an athlete who defines the very art of wielding a tennis racquet?

The game of geniuses is very different — it is varied, multifaceted and myriad-minded as Shakespeare, as Simon Barnes once wrote. They can play the ball with their feet or the bat or the racquet like none else can and make that ball do impossible things in defying gravity, redefining geometry. The combination of purpose and the fulfilment of the sense of aesthetic beauty in the beholder from their creativity lent a magical touch to the sport they were in.

Their art transcended frontiers. Pele was so good as to have left behind this huge national legacy. The Brazilian at soccer and the Indian at cricket matches are more than just fans, they are zealots because they have seen genius at play and pass on that love of sport down generations.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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