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“Stand out of my light.” So goes the punchline in Plutarch’s retelling of the one and only meeting between Alexander the Great and Diogenes of Sinope, the Cynic philosopher, the latter of whom had only the preceding request for the Macedonian king. To take the tale at face value, there couldn’t have been too many duos less alike in ancient Greece around 336 BCE. As powerful as almost any human being ever, Alexander is infamous for having wept at the notion that he had no worlds left to conquer. Diogenes sought out poverty, thriving in destitution and sleeping in a ceramic jar.

As cavernous as the gap between Diogenes and Alexander was, so, too, is that between the teams meeting in Saturday’s UEFA Champions League Final. With a cursory glance, one may suspect that the teams share few similarities. Part of that, of course, comes with comparing any team to Real Madrid in the European Cup; having won ten of them, more than any other club, gives you an air of esteem and pomp without parallel. Their opponents in this case, however, are achingly familiar with flying close to the sun as their wings start to melt. Like Alexander after meeting Diogenes, Real may leave San Siro stunningly impressed with the exploits of Atlético Madrid.

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Courtesy of Soccerroomtoday.com

Courtesy of Soccerroomtoday.com

When anyone mentions La Liga, the top soccer division in Spain, in the United States, the most popular notion which comes to mind is the FC Barcelona-Real Madrid dichotomy which has ruled the country and succeeded in European play for decades. The last team other than these two to win La Liga was a Mista-led Valencia squad in 2003-’04, a season in which Barcelona finished second and Real Madrid finished fourth. Incredibly, Madrid (32) and Barcelona (22) have accounted for 54 out of a possible 81 La Liga championships since the inception of the league in 1929, and the two best players in the world, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Real Madrid’s Christiano Ronaldo, keep these teams at the vanguard of Spanish football thought. This season may just end the decade-long reign of those two clubs, however, as a powerful team has emerged just south of Real’s Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid.

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Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

He needs help like a fish needs a bicycle.” – Ray Hudson, on Lionel Messi

Here is what we know about Lionel Andrés Messi: originally from the Argentine city of Rosario, he is 26 years old. He is of relatively small stature (reportedly 5-foot-7), physically. He is left-footed and had a growth deficiency when he was a child, for which FC Barcelona, his current club in Spain, offered to pick up the medical tab in exchange for his coming to the Catalan youth academy. He is the four-time defending recipient of FIFA’s Ballon d’Or, the most prestigious individual award in soccer. He is, unequivocally and absolutely, the finest soccer player on the planet. And he has more than a solid chance to be, when all is said and done, the best the world has ever seen.

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