The day Paul Scholes realised Lionel Messi was on a totally different planet in 2008

  • Rob Swan

Lionel Messi has produced countless spellbinding performances during his illustrious career.

The Barcelona legend, who turned 33 on Wednesday, must have an entire room dedicated to his Man of the Match awards inside his house.

One of his early standout performances in the Champions League came at Old Trafford during the 2007-08 campaign.

Messi, who was just 20 years old at the time, terrorised Manchester United on his first appearance at the Theatre of Dreams.

United somehow won the match 1-0 thanks to a glorious strike from Paul Scholes, but Messi was unquestionably the game’s standout player and was unlucky to find himself on the losing side.

Scholes, by his own admission, did not enjoy the experience of going head-to-head against Messi.

And the United hero found out the hard way that Messi, wearing the No. 19 shirt on the night, was on a totally different planet.

Messi found himself one-on-one with Scholes and produced a magnificent piece of skill to skip past the world-class midfielder.

With the ball glued to his foot, Messi shimmied to go left before darting right in the blink of an eye, wrong-footing Scholes in the process.

It’s hard to think of another player who managed to embarrass Scholes like that.

“I am not ashamed to admit that in the games against Barcelona I spent a lot of the time just hoping he would take up positions as far away from me as possible,” Scholes, who faced Messi on four occasions, admitted after hanging up his boots.

“Elusive is the word that immediately springs to mind when I think about Messi’s style of play. You think you have an eye on him and then – blink – he has gone, only to reappear somewhere else in space, with the ball. When you try to face up to him and make a tackle you know what it is he is going to do with the ball. The problem is staying with him.”


Earlier in the same match, Scholes was left breathing a huge sigh of relief after realising his foul on Messi was right on the edge of the box, rather than inside it.

“It was a moment I will never forget,” Scholes wrote in the Independent. “He went past me, I stuck out my leg and Lionel Messi went over. This was at Old Trafford in 2008 in the second leg of our Champions League semi-final against Barcelona and, with the score 1-0 to us, I had fouled him in our area.

“When I think about our win over Barcelona in that game, on our way to the second Champions League title of the Sir Alex Ferguson era, I always remember that tackle. Yes, I scored the only goal of the tie, and it was one of my better ones. But I will never forget that couple of seconds when the best footballer in the world deceived me into fouling him and I waited for the world to fall in.


“It should have been a penalty to Barcelona, and an away goal would have won them the tie. But for some reason the referee didn’t give it, the game moved on and even Messi did not make much of a fuss. The relief was overwhelming for a few moments – and then I was back into the game.”

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