Lionel Messi is a poor man’s Stephen Ireland and everybody in football knows it.
Six Ballon d’Or trophies? Try six goals in all competitions for Stoke City. Winning the Golden Ball at a FIFA World Cup? Please, that’s nothing on a FAI Young International Player of the Year plaque.
Ok, ok, jokes aside, there is – of course – no comparing Messi and Ireland as footballers. Sorry, Stephen.
However, the world of football is an unpredictable place and there’s always scope for a player of lesser quality, though still talented, to upstage teams and stars superior to them in one-off games.
And that’s exactly what happened when Manchester City made the trip to Barcelona, fresh from their treble under Pep Guardiola, for the Juan Gamper Trophy in the pre-season of 2009.
Ireland masterclass vs Barcelona???
Ireland was selected in the starting XI for City against a Catalan side that included the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thierry Henry, Sergio Busquets, Carles Puyol, Yaya Toure and Messi himself.
Surely Ireland couldn’t upstage all those players, even if he had just won City’s Player of the Season award and was yet to see his career fizzle out in the 2010s, but upstage them he did.
And in the words of Ireland himself during an interview with The Athletic: “We played against Barcelona in pre-season and I was the best player on the pitch by a country mile.
Ireland steals the show vs Messi
“Messi was playing. He went on one of his mad runs and I just thought, ‘I have to tackle him’. I did this massive hook tackle on him. It was an amazing tackle.
“There were four or five times when I read his passes and intercepted them. I went round him. I gave him the eyes and went a different way. It was cool, really cool, to be out there with him.”
He’s exaggerating, right? Right?? Right??? To be honest, the answer is only really ‘yes’ if we’re being harsh because he provided the assist for the winner and put Messi in his place.
You can check out Messi’s individual highlights below to see Ireland popping up like a complete nuisance and skip to 0:58 to see his storming tackle on the Ballon d’Or winner:
And be sure to enjoy his brilliant assist for Martin Petrov’s winner on the night:
Rave reviews from Barca president
Oh what could have been, Stephen, oh what could have been.
There’s no doubting that Ireland was a talented player and this was probably the peak of his powers, it’s just a shame that he couldn’t produce Messi-neutralising displays on a weekly basis.
Besides, he even had Barcelona’s president clamouring about him before the game with Ireland recalling: “The day before the game, we had a training session. And as we were coming up the tunnel, Barcelona’s president was there.
“All the players were like, ‘That’s him!’. He kinda pushed everyone to the side, grabbed me and gave me a massive bear hug.
What could have been…
“He put his arm around me and I started to sweat so bad. I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, if he picks up on this it’s going to be so embarrassing’. I was red in the face, drenched with sweat. Oh sh*t, how uncool did I look?
“And he started telling everyone, ‘Hey, this guy is the man, this guy’s number one. This guy’s Superman!’. Looking back, I really feel I was good enough to have stayed another six, seven or eight years at City.”
Oh, and Bruno Fernandes had a poster of him in his bedroom. What a world we live in.
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