Of Football and Time: The tale of two geniuses

Design Credits: Priya Narayanan (Creative Commons)

It was late 2012. My Dad had just returned from a three-month-long service away from home as an Inspector in the police department. His job often required him to be months away from home, and every time he returned, I used to longingly wait for him. This particular instance, however, he returned with a gift. It was a paperback with a color as metallic as the surface of the planet Mercury.

With a ‘Record-Breaking Bestseller’ tag high above its cover and five simple and bold words written in black, the book promised to marry ‘a child’s wonder to a genius’ intellect.’ I was hooked, right away. And for a long while, I found my safe haven in the pages and illustrations of that book, pondering over things that didn’t make much sense to the mind of an eighth grader as well as revelations that startled the astrophysics fanatic in me. And I fell in love.

Not for the first time, mind you.

I had fallen in love in a similar manner two years before on the 6th of April, 2010 when a diminutive player from Argentina, wearing a red and blue shirt ripped past an entire defense and scored 4 times.


The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” — Helen Keller


In 1988, Bantam Books published Professor Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time” for the first time and it became an instant sensation. Hawking delved into the impossibilities and complexities of advanced physics in his book like nobody else had done before. Stephen Hawking put forth profound ideas in terms even laymen could understand, in his own humble and often amusing manner of course. A Brief History of Time made it to the London Sunday Times bestseller list and Hawking became almost a celebrity of sorts.

‘The greatest physicist since Einstein’, Daily Express dubbed.

Almost 11,000 kilometers away, across the Atlantic in the small town of Rosario, another genius who would soon be obsessed about impossibilities and complexities, baby Lionel was learning to use his feet, his instruments of art for the first time.

Stephen Hawking had spent decades since 1990 as the most famous physicist on the planet and for very obvious reasons. He was that brilliant. He was in succession to the throne of Newton and Einstein, the pantheon of greats in the physics community.

Lionel Messi has spent the greater half of his career demanding the throne from Pélé and Maradona, all-time greats in the game of football.

Hawking was obsessed with deciphering the secrets of space-time, Messi is obsessed with mastering space and time.

In 1966, another physics stalwart, Professor Roger Penrose had established that a massive, dying star left behind an anomaly in space-time as a corpse, a singularity concealed deep inside a black hole. (Trust me, I won’t delve into the science of it. I hate it too when football writers become uber nerds all of a sudden) Hawking struck upon the idea of singularity and used its relevance to trace back the history of our cosmos and the future of a singularity. He had essentially established that our Universe began with a Big Bang and will most likely end in a Big Crunch.

It was ingenious, but more importantly, it was beautiful, it was simple.

It reminds me of Leo, when he uses his body as a weapon, dropping his shoulder to one side and turning away quickly to the other side in a jiffy to get past his man. No rabonas, no rainbow flicks, no step-overs. Nothing flashy, just beautiful, simple muscle movements.


Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.” ~ Frederic Chopin


It wasn’t a smooth sail to the pinnacle of their fields for either of them. Professor Hawking was diagnosed with ALS (a motor neuron disease) that paralyzed his entire body and vocal cords at the mere age of 21. He wasn’t supposed to live beyond a year or two according to the doctors.

While at Newell’s Old Boys, little Leo was diagnosed with a Growth Hormone Deficiency at the fragile age of 13. He wasn’t supposed to have a build strong and tall enough to play professional football according to the doctors.

And yet, both of them helped the world fall in love with romanticism a little bit more. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’, Nietzsche stated. And for Hawking, his disability gave him the renewed motivation to accomplish his life’s greatest works. For Leo, it gave him his low center of gravity and armed him with his most powerful weapon in dribbling past entire defenses.

Still, think that fairy tales don’t exist in real life?

I like to think that both their brains were alike in many respects. In his Cambridge years, Hawking had taken a particular liking to rowing. No, he didn’t row the boats, he merely sat and orchestrated the rowers, dictated speed, direction and guiding them accordingly with his brain multitasking at numbers, environment factors, water velocity conditions all at once. And he applied that to his physics research as well.

Lionel Messi does the same at the center of the park, holds up play, dictates tempo, finds and invents passing lanes, accelerates, decides whether to attempt the impossible or to prefer the surer option, whether to shoot or look for the cutback, all the while billions of neurons multitasking in his brain.

Stephen Hawking never won a Nobel Prize, the most prestigious award for any scientist in the world, much like how Leo has never won a World Cup till date. Hawking should have had his Nobel in 1976 for legendary and super stellar work with Hawking radiation, but Rocky Balboa did say “the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, it’s a mean place” for a certain reason.

Lionel Messi can vouch for the same.

Design Credits: Dan Flanagan (Creative Commons)

I woke up to the grim news of Professor Hawking passing away yesterday and it was up until the second minute of the Champions League clash against Chelsea last night, that I cut a continuous, morose figure. Lionel Messi took that all away because that’s what he does, he spreads joy on the field, like Rio Ferdinand so iconically put it last night. That’s what all great artists do for that matter. Hawking spread joy and relief in the scientific community with his breakthroughs and insights, Messi does the same, almost blatantly demanding the respect and admiration of his peers, contemporaries and the millions.

In his introduction to the Brief History of Time, another legendary philosopher and thinker, Carl Sagan had stated “We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing of the world” and it’s true, life is indeed special and to waste it away doing rote, ordinary things would seem like the most tragic sin.

Art, literature, science, and sport give meaning to life just like the late, great Robin Williams had claimed in “Dead Poets Society” and yes, you need domains and interests that are ‘larger than life’ to help you cope up with the monsters of every day. I’m only grateful and privileged, (and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you are too) that I’ve been drunk in love with magnificent pursuits of the same and have superheroes in these fields that redefine the meaning of what it’s like to live to the fullest.

The image of Professor Stephen William Hawking in a wheelchair, defying his cruel fate a prosaic narrative and trying to smile with his eyes twinkling to the fullest, with the satisfaction of a life well spent will always be immortal.

Much like a Lionel Andres Messi pointing to the heavens after scoring a goal and thanking his grandmother for introducing him to the art he would go on to redefine.

I only thank the stars for allowing me to exist in the same lifespan as these two Gods.

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