Hands down, or despite the use of a 'Hand of God' on one occasion, Barcelona's Lionel Messi is the most exciting and best soccer player in the world. So it's no surprise everyone wants to learn how to play like Messi.
Quick points on how to play like Messi:
Spend time with the ball on a daily basis weaving in and out of cones or imaginary defenders
Touch the ball with each step when you dribble
Go slow at the defender to sucker them in and then burst past them with speed
Play one and two touch soccer when it’s on, don't force the dribble
Shield the ball with your body and protect it
Don’t give up on the play
Set players up by varying your play so they don’t know what you’re going to do – play one touch sometimes and dribble when you're one on one or in the attacking third
Who better to strive to emulate. He can dribble the ball like nobody else in the game. The ball seems to be tethered to his foot at all times. He creates havoc when he moves with the ball. He will even dribble across the top of the box or split between two defenders when it seemed like there was too much traffic or no space to move. Defenders must dread playing Barcelona since they have to face the Pulga Atomica (Atomic Flea). Diego Maradona, the new coach for Argentina, has hailed Messi as his replacement. This is no surprise, as Messi imitated Maradona's run against England in a game against Getafe.
But how do play like Lionel Messi? Well, you have to spend time with the ball, and a lot of it. There’s no magic solution other than more and more practice and day in and day out. Whether that's dribbling the ball in and around cones, around imaginary players, around the furniture in the house, and or in pickup games whenever you can, you essentially have to love the game if you want to play like Messi because that's how he became the player he is. He loved the game and thus wanted to master the ball and the game.
Messi was asked once in an exceptional Guardian story how he was able to get so good, he said:
'First of all you've got to love the game.' How much? 'Well ... from the age of three I played every day: every morning, afternoon and night. Inside the house, too. I'd break things. My mum would go mad ...'
To become a player like Messi you want to dribble the ball with each step of the foot when you're walking, jogging, or sprinting with the ball. This way you develop close control and can cut the ball away from defenders when you need to. Messi always has the ball close to him and has a number of gears he can move into, from slowly jogging along to charging at defenders – he teases them at first by moving slowly and then darts around them with a change of pace. That’s the secret, the change of pace when he goes by a defender. First it’s slow, slow, slow and then he bursts past them with speed. And he will cut the ball in either direction, to the inside or to the outside.
Watch how Messi attacks an opponent with space behind the defender to run into:
Messi might not be that big or tall, but that's why he has the nickname the Atomic Flea, he's small but powerfull. He uses his body to protect the ball and won't be pushed off the ball. He has a low center of gravity and will fight with the best of defenders to keep the ball. He also uses his shoulder and body to fake out defenders.
Change of Pace
Messi attacks the space with the ball when it opens up, as he does in the video above. He bumps into Etoo at first but then when the space is there he quickly moves into it - pushing the ball ahead. And he doesn't give up on the play.
The thing about Messi that makes him exceptional is he only dribbles when it’s on. He rarely loses the ball. He plays one and two touch soccer and dribbles when there’s a chance to make something happen. Whether that's drawing in a defender to then play a one two with or a perfectly weighted through ball to an on running Henry or Eto'o. There’s a purpose behind his dribbling and he’s not a player that hogs the ball. Rather, Messi is a player who seems to get the most joy when he's setting other players up. He shares the ball with his teammates and brings them into the game like all great players do.
How to Dribble Like Messi
The ball is nearly glued to Messi's foot.
The Legend of Messi
Here's a superb collection of Messi's dribbling feats, moves, and goals. If you want to play like Messi then study this video.