Sitting through the first 60 minutes of Barcelona and Paris Saint Germain, I began to wonder just what it means to lay claim to the title of the 'best player in the world.'
Does it mean carrying a mediocre team to glory? Does it mean providing an already proven team with the ability to approach invincibility?
The commentators remained as impartial as possible on this whilst discussing the chance of Lionel Messi's introduction to the game. Barcelona looked a shade of the team so used to having their own way on their own ground, having had had no shots on target in the entire first half, and there was an inevitability that PSG would convert their threat into a goal.
They had played the entire first half with a dogged determination and confidence going forward that seemed to shake the swagger of a Messi-less Barca. Marco Verratti, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lucas Moura were helping the Parisian team control the match, and when Javier Pastore put the tie in their favour on the 50th minute, it surprised few people.
Cue the half-fit Messi beginning a series of warm-ups on the sideline to the adulation of the home fans, eager for him to get involved. He had not warmed up earlier in the match, an indication perhaps that his role would ideally of been limited to that of intimidation from the safety of the bench.
How much could a half-fit player, however good he was, improve a team full of World Cup winners who had won 5-0 without him at the weekend?
It only became clearer and clearer how much Barca needed this intimidation, this ability, on the pitch as the game went on. Finally, in the 62nd minute of the game, Messi took to the field. And it was astounding the influence he had on the tie.
So comfortable in his role as catalyst for his team, he was immediately happy receiving the ball and carrying it directly towards goal, via magnificent footwork and dribbling of course.
Naturally, PSG dropped back deeper, and their attacking lines, so effective in the first half, were amended to account for his introduction. This, in turn, gave space to Messi’s more than capable team-mates to do what they have done best these last few years, provide the perfect tools and materials for the artist to create, or as was the case with Pedro’s goal, the chance to profit from his artistry.
Such is his ability, that this half-a-Messi can appear from the bench for an already magnificent team, and turn a tie of such magnitude against such quality opposition. Well I couldn’t recall a cameo like it.
With this match Messi settled the anxious Camp Nou crowd. His appearance settled his desperate teammates. It critically unsettled the confidence of the eleven players opposite him. And in my mind, it greatly settled any doubts that he is in fact the greatest footballer of this, or any age.
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