There was a recent documentary on C.Ronaldo that tried to analyze his strengths, and figure out what makes him the athlete that he is.

But in too many ways, Messi is everything Ronaldo is not - especially from a physical build point of view. He's (much) shorter, slower, can't jump as high, and, to my eyes, is much weaker than Ronaldo.

Yet, it's pretty much universally agreed that Messi is the best player in the planet - and probably in history. The way he plays is absolutely incredible, almost magical.

So what makes Messi Messi? What is it about Messi that makes him the player that he is?

I see a lot of good quality answers that are fairly detailed about Leo's physical attributes and somewhat about his mental strengths,so I'll add something to 'What makes Messi Messi'?

Mental toughness:

Mental toughness and the ability to stay extraordinary in big occasions are a common feature of the best players, both past and present. An example is Ronaldo, who was a mess before the 2002 World cup (2002 World Cup revisited: Ronaldo lights up final scoreboard for Brazil | The National) and you can final similar instances of 'being tough in the face of adversity' amongst the top players of today- Suarez, Van Persie, Iniesta, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez etc. Many of them struggled in their early years, due to a rough childhood (Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic) and some of them due to homesickness(Iniesta, Messi) ,some due to injury (Ronaldo, as mentioned above) and many due to wrong career move, and they responded on the pitch attaining great heights (Well, maybe not Messi :D). You can, could break them physically but not so easily mentally and they come back stronger. They are extremely competitive and motivated.

It is well known that Lionel Messi had a Growth Hormone Disorder(GHD) and was only 4'2" back then. Though Argentinian clubs like River Plate were interested in him, they could not afford to pay $900 a month for HGH injections, which was the treatment for GHD. Carles Rexach of Barcelona took a chance on him and offered to pay the bills otherwise Messi would not have had a normal lifestyle- affected by pitiutary problems, poor vision and low immunity. Messi was very homesick initially and took some time to adjust to a new continent.

On the football side, as we have seen over the years, Messi doesn't go down easily when tackled hard, getting kicked at or having his shirt/shorts pulled when he is running really fast with the ball. And you can forget simulation from him, his determination to keep the ball and do something extraordinary with it is probably more important to him than getting a foul. He speeds past the defenders in a flash and is sometimes stopped by the tackles, either illegally in which case he would get a foul or legally like this:

Notice Messi rueing the chance he missed to score, though his sudden burst of acceleration left Nesta behind and Nesta managed a brilliant tackle :

An example of unstoppable Messi:

In the above video, though there are no hard tackles or kicks by three or four defenders, this goal was in the Champions League semifinal of 2011 in the home of their arch rivals Real Madrid. It is one thing to try a speculative long shot when in an important occasion, it is another to pick the ball in front of the entire defence and midfield and waltz through the opponent team and score in an intimidating atmosphere. Here's another example of a solo goal which mirrors that of a certain Maradona more than two decades ago:

Baljeet already has a video titled 'Messi never dives' you can check that out.
Here's another one, though a tad exaggerated in some aspects. Nevertheless, this is a fan's opinion of Messi's strong mentality:

Physical uniqueness:

We hear a lot about Messi's low centre of gravity being a major factor in his playing style. There is no disputing this but if his height is a huge factor, then Messi is no more different than Ribery, Sneijder, Mata and other current players or Vava, Garrincha, Maradona, Best etc. from the past. There are a lot of greats in this category but there are few who are similar to Messi's style of play(the awesome Diego Maradona being one). Messi can turn extremely fast and his sudden bursts of acceleration when being on the ball leaves defenders like this:

(From this week's World cup match against Bosnia):

Technical/Tactical uniqueness:

Again, Messi has wonderful vision,ball control,passing range, shot placement and an (IMHO, underrated) awareness of the play around him. But many current players have similar skills, though refined to a lesser extent or some are better than Messi at a subset of these skills but Messi just happens to be really good at many of these things.That is the wheat from the chaff and few players (off the top of my head, Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic, Suarez, Aguero) are in the league of Messi. so nothing unique there.

If you're looking for something Messi does beautifully and at a much higher frequency than anyone else, it could be the chip:

If you notice keenly,the fascination and efficiency for lobs/chips is something unique to Messi - they are as varied as the man's genius skills.

He is inconsistent with 'powerful' shots and goes for placement over power though he is brutally efficient with it. And if the goalkeeper tries to come closer, then he gets to helplessly see the ball going over his head in slow-motion. Most players can score with lobs, some can even do it from the touchline but Messi does it so many times in even many ways. Heck, his first 'goal' (not counted,he was offside) and his first official goal were both lobs:

Among many excellent players, I'm absolutely fascinated to watch Lionel Messi play.He has been frequently injured for sometime and is just back on his feet this year though with a 'dip' in his contribution (Few players with 38 goals and 11 assists in 38 games can claim to have a bad season!).

I must confess that I fear Messi might decline in a couple of years and I will never get to see him live(live = in the stadium, not the opposite of dead) and that will be my biggest regret. I don't want to be stuck with videos of Messi, I want to be in a match in a stadium and fixate on his play while maintaining a cursory glance at the rest of the game.


Neteller here: