Roger Federer, a tennis icon, has written a touching tribute to Lionel Messi following the Argentine and Paris Saint-Germain forward’s inclusion in TIME’s list of the 100 Most Influential People of 2023.
It has been a remarkable year for Messi, a seven-time Ballon d’Or recipient, as he triumphantly led his beloved La Albiceleste to victory in the World Cup in December, a title that had eluded him in the past.
And after becoming a world champion for the first time in his trophy-laden career, the 35-year-old has recently been named in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2023.
In fact, Messi’s entry into the list was accompanied by a powerful message from 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, who described his awareness and anticipation as “almost beyond comprehension”.
Here’s the tribute in full:
“Lionel Messi’s goal-scoring records and championship wins need no recounting here. What stands out to me about Messi, 35, is his consistent greatness over so many years. This is so difficult to achieve, and then maintain. He dribbles like a magician, and his angular passes are works of art. His awareness and anticipation are almost beyond comprehension.
“My career has just come to an end. I now realize how much weight we athletes carry. But in our daily lives, we don’t even realize it. For a football player like Messi, that weight likely feels more massive, as he represents both a world-renowned club and a very passionate country.
“Argentina’s World Cup victory was magnificent. Millions of fans’ taking to the streets of Buenos Aires to celebrate was an amazing moment in sports, witnessed around the world. Even those who don’t follow football must have realized the true impact of the world’s most popular game.
Growing up, Diego Maradona and Gabriel Batistuta were my favorite Argentine players. I was lucky enough to meet both of them. They inspired me. Now Messi can inspire future generations. I can only hope we get to see his unique creativity and artistry for a little bit longer.
“Don’t blink too often as Messi performs on the pitch. You may miss something incredible from the man of the moment.
“Thank you, Leo.”
TIME’s annual list honours leaders, icons, artists, titans, pioneers and innovators on a yearly basis.
This time around, recording artist Doja Cat and actor Michael B. Jordan featured in the top 100 alongside Lionel Messi’s club teammate Kylian Mbappe.
“France’s newly minted soccer captain is not one to hide his emotions,” the column reads.
“In December, two days before his 24th birthday, the world watched as he slumped devastated on the pitch in Qatar, having scored three goals, but missing out on his second World Cup victory. Crouching awkwardly beside him in comfort was French President Emmanuel Macron.”
It added: “Like Kylian Mbappé’s devout fans, Macron knows he is more than a soccer genius—he is a living rags-to-riches fairy tale.
“A kid raised in Paris’ tough suburbs, Mbappé rocketed to global fame by winning the 2018 World Cup at just 19.
When Mbappé weighed a nine-figure transfer from Paris Saint-Germain to Real Madrid last year, Macron called and begged him to stay for the sake of France. Mbappé stayed at PSG.
“Despite his incredible celebrity, Mbappé has three home truths from his mom that keep him grounded: “Respect, humility, lucidity.” He has a realistic view of fame, and even at 19 he knew it can be fickle. “We can be the best, and in four years, you are forgotten,” he told me then. No chance of that, Kylian.”