By Jed Stone
It should be well known by now that controversy follows football – always. A goal is never just a goal. A call is never just a call. Somewhere and somehow, someone will deem it a political act. A show of nationalism, bravery, cowardice, trickery! Anything but the simplest: a player playing the game to the best of his/her ability.
Likewise, it is no surprise that this weekend, superstar Lionel Messi assisted the goal of a lifetime. However, this time, it wasn’t his supernatural speeding down the pitch, dribbling through defender after defender, and finding his net or teammate in perfect position with pinpoint accuracy. With great intention, Messi setup for a penalty kick.
It was once explained to me that PKs are a fine opportunity for a goalkeeper to showcase his prowess. With little to lose, and a whole lot to gain, he prepares a save that will embarrass his shooting counterpart…
This weekend, rather than drilling a shot into the net as he has done so many times, Messi softly tapped the ball forward to his right. Luis Suarez routinely ran into the box and scored near-post.
Source: “Messi lays off penalty for Suarez hat trick,” February 14, 2016, Youtube.
“Cowardice!” ran through many heads.
“Illegal!” through others.
Everyone’s head turned. The shot was heard around the world. Many wondered if it had happened before (it had). Speculation after speculation can be seen tossed around the internet. Fame follows fame as Cristiano Ronaldo commented, “I know why Leo (Messi) took that penalty like that. And I’m not saying anything more”. 
Soon thereafter, conspiracy arises. Was this kick an act of cowardice? Or was it hubris? Maybe it was pure selflessness, an opportunity for others. Neymar speaks to the incident, clearing some confusion that the shot was in fact meant for him. So why did they do this? Maybe Messi is a team player, spreading out the goals, as Neymar had yet to score in the game. Or maybe he is selfish – holding out for his 300th goal in La Liga to surmount in style. Regardless, a star scored a goal in unusual form, and without surprise or much resistance, conspiracy and criticism immediately arose.
I take the game at face value and was stunned by the goal. I don’t care why he did it, but it was a phenomenal play. One that will be talked about for decades. One that I won’t forget.
 Roger Gonzalez, “Ronaldo didn’t appear to like that trick Messi-Suarez PK, throws shade,” CBS Sports, February 16, 2016, http://www.cbssports.com/soccer/eye-on-soccer/25485274/ronaldo-doesnt-appear-to-like-that-trick-messi-suarez-penalty-kick.
 Des Bieler, “Watch Lionel Messi turn a penalty kick into an assist on a Luis Suarez goal,” The Washington Post, February 14, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/02/14/watch-lionel-messi-turn-a-penalty-kick-into-an-assist-on-a-luis-suarez-goal/