What's it like to carry the weight of the World Cup on your shoulders?
For Lionel Messi, the star of the Argentina soccer team, it's a bit like moving bricks from one side of your garage to the other, or redoing your taxes.
As his body language suggests from a 0-3 loss to Croatia last week, the man is seriously stooped. During the national anthem, he was rubbing his forehead, face pointed down. Walking off the field, he looked like he was analyzing blades of grass. Throughout the entire match, the soccer star seemed to be in a different time zone or perhaps galaxy.
Maybe he doesn't want to be in the World Cup. Maybe he's injured. Or maybe he's revealing some emotions that are better left unsaid.
As we all know, your body language can often reveal more about your viewpoints than anything you actually say. One reason is that we sometimes don't say when we really mean. Few of us are willing to speak up against the guy in marketing who tells mildly off-color jokes, but look around the room and you know everyone's a little tense. When an angry boss walks into the room, the employees all glance downward. Not good.
For Messi, we don't really know what he's thinking. This analysis of the game, as divided as you can get about a topic that is based entirely on stats and a video record of performances, seems to suggest that Messi is either disinterested (he's already achieved so much on a world stage), heartless and uncaring, or entirely broken.
It's interesting how we know this as humans. It doesn't take a rocket scientist. In fact, it only takes six seconds. We recognize slumped shoulders, a hand to the brow, a dark look. Experts say we size people up based on body language within seconds of meeting them.
Now, to debate what's really happening.
I've watched many of the World Cup matches so far, and I'm sure you can come up with all of your own theories (and probably will). Yet, I'm convinced Messi is dealing with the pressure of success not just for his own career but for the entire sport. In America, not having a presence at the World Cup (the U.S. team did not qualify) means the competition won't resonate as much. And, if you look at the stats when it comes to youth participation in soccer, there's a troubling trend: It hasn't changed since 2010.
We know the Messi will not be on the cover of Sports Illustrated with a massive smile jumping high into the air and punching a fist. That body language says: The World Cup is back, Argentina is on the top of the world, soccer has returned to the spotlight.
Instead, it's doom and gloom, darkness and disarray, and a disappointing showing for the biggest star in soccer (unless you count Ronaldo). Argentina looks like a defeated team already, playing with three defenders in the back. Messi barely moved during segments of the game, hiding in the flank. He looked like a hollow man.
I wrote about a similar topic recently, how one player cannot possibly carry an entire team to victory. LeBron James is easily on the same level as Messi as far as far-reaching impact on the sport, but basketball is a team sport in the end. Soccer, even more so.
So what's next? Can soccer survive? Sure. The momentum for Portugal is just picking up steam, Brazil looks stunningly proficient (note their precise passing and how they can steal the ball from other players in a blink). It will be a wild ride.
And yet, there's something missing. Say what you want about Cristiano Ronaldo, many American soccer fans know the name Messi. He's a hard-working, emotional player. We "get" him, whereas Ronaldo seems like a player from another time or era (or planet). Young kids like Messi because he looks familiar, penetrable.
I'm not sure about the future for Messi, though. His body language would suggest this massive star is already feeling defeated. The takeaway? One drooping head, one hand to the forehead reveals so much. In business, what you say might not matter as much as how you look, and you can read an entire group of people with a glance.
Body language is the ultimate revelation. Even for those who will never play pro soccer.