It took Leo Messi just over two minutes to set another record in the Camp Nou last night. His opener against Chelsea in the second leg of their Champions League tie was timed at 2:08, the quickest goal he’s ever scored in his spectacular Barcelona career.
There is such a constant stream of praise for Messi that it can be easy to forget just for one minute how a good a footballer the Argentine really is.
Approaching this First Knockout Round tie, the English press were obsessed with the fact that Messi had never scored against Chelsea. Yes, it was a peculiar statistic, seeing as Messi has scored against the vast majority of sides he has faced more than twice. However, that isn’t to say Chelsea were masters in keeping the little devil under lock and key; they simply had so far managed to avoid his supreme gift of goalscoring.
By 10pm last night, that stat was obliterated, just like the countless other arguments that protest against this precocious talent. Messi scored 3 goals across the two legs, his double yesterday securing Barcelona’s passage to the quarter finals.
His genius goes beyond goalscoring, though. It’s the finer details that sets the 30 year old apart from every player to have ever graced a football pitch. The perfect first touch; the ability to half-turn and look forward almost every time; the lightning feint of the shoulder; the fact that he can telegraph his next move and you still can’t stop him making a fool of you before accelerating into the distance; the passing; the free kicks; the blurry feet; the unassuming nature of the man.
The beauty of Leo Messi is that a person unacquainted to the global world of football can walk past him on the street and not so much as give him a second glance. He possesses that ‘everyman’ appearance that the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James and Usain Bolt do not. Messi could be anyone. He doesn’t swan around in vibrant and expensive clothing, he’s seldom spotted in nightclubs or up to mischief, he doesn’t appear on huge billboards, posing in his undies for household fashion brands.
When the great Ronaldinho was at the height of his powers for Barcelona and Brazil in 2005, claiming back-to-back balon d’ors and gracing the world as the first ‘YouTube footballer’, he was asked what it felt like to be the best player on the planet.
His answer was almost prophetic. He told the reporter that he wasn’t even the most gifted player at the club, and that such a title belonged to an 18 year old by the name of Lionel Messi; a kid to keep an eye out for.
Within 12 months, that interview had gone down as the stuff of legend. A hat-trick in the Bernabeu as a teenager that following year cemented Messi’s place as a superstar in the making.
There’s a famous forum thread from 2005 that regularly does the rounds online when a the subject of Messi’s brilliance starts to trend. The forum discussion, on BigSoccer, debates the talent of Messi and how he stands up to other wonderkids of the day, namely Freddy Adu, in the wake of the 2005 World Youth Cup. This being a US-based forum, the general consensus was that Adu, then a 15 year old prodigy, was the next big thing to hit the game and that Messi simply didn’t possess the talent of the American.
Reading back some of the comments is an amazing way to waste an hour:
“I think both players were great today….but to say that Messi is clearly better than Adu is to be optimistic at best. Their skill levels are similar and Freddy is younger as well.”
“Light years ahead of Adu? Please, you have probably seen the kid play 45 minutes ever now.”
Messi’s name basically sums up his gameplay, his face, and his whole life.
“I saw nothing Messi did that would make me think he is any better than Adu at this level”
“I’m sure Adu at age 18 will be far better than Messi at age 18…”
13 years on, one only has to imagine what Freddy Adu, currently a free agent after a decade of journey-manning it around Europe’s most obscure leagues, felt watching Messi put in another spellbinding performance last night.