Messi gives a game to remember in Barca's win over Bayern
Barcelona genius reminds us all of game's true beauty
SEMI-FINAL, 1ST LEG
(Lionel Messi 77, 80, Neymar 90+4)
BAYERN MUNICH 0
One day, this will all end. The clock must succeed where every twisted defender has failed.
Time will catch Lionel Messi.
When that day comes, when the shadow falls over the most captivating footballer this beautiful game has ever produced, remember games like this.
Remember him. Remember his goals. Remember when he made magic almost mundane.
That's a contradiction, of course. The truly extraordinary never becomes ordinary, no matter how often it's repeated.
The trick is never routine when it is executed with such breathtaking originality.
Nothing about Messi is laboured or predictable. He is a dream-keeper. He resurrects the childhood dreams in all of us.
This morning, every kid will stride onto a school pitch or void deck like a man.
Every man will remember the inner boy who fell in love with the infuriating, exasperating, intoxicating game that football has always been.
Messi's first goal against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semi-final yesterday morning (Singapore time) stunned the German giants.
His second goal made the watching world regress. He took sport back to its simplest, purest form. He distilled the glory game to its very essence.
He gave us joy.
He gave us nothing but unadulterated joy.
After he skinned Jerome Boateng, he stripped football back to its core. His glorious flick over the advancing Manuel Neuer - all 1.94 metres of him - left grown men crying in the Nou Camp.
His old mentor Pep Guardiola shook his head in disbelief. His ecstatic teammates collapsed at his altar in celebration. The rest of us were off our seats and sofas, pulled towards the screen, hypnotised by the impish illusionist.
We were all children again, struggling for the right words, any words, in awe of the game's unblemished beauty.
The goal reduced Martin Tyler, the finest commentator of his generation, to a squawking, gushing, high-pitched toddler.
"That's astonishing," he spluttered. "That's absolutely world class."
It's not a criticism of Tyler. It's the highest compliment. Once again, he had captured the mood of his audience. We were there with him, in the moment.
In the presence of true genius, we are all cowed.
Gary Neville, once accused of having the biggest mouth in Manchester, had no words. They weren't required. It wasn't necessary to add a trivial scribble to another Messi masterpiece.
The art spoke for itself.
Inevitably, it was easier to focus on the technical stuff, the explainable stuff.
Guardiola's near-suicidal decision to start with a back three and opt for a man-marking system was a risky venture almost undone in the first 15 minutes, until he switched to a back four.
Of course, Guardiola has pulled off this manoeuvre before, the tactical equivalent of rope-a-dope, tiring opponents and putting them away in the second half. Bayern did have the lion's share of possession and appeared the fitter of the two sides as the game progressed.
All of which further explains the futility of geeky statisticians and boring bean-counters.
Guardiola sent out a patched-up side to stop Barcelona's front three and hold out for the second leg in Munich, but it's churlish to think chalkboards are a match for Messi.
"There is no system that can stop Leo Messi," Guardiola said. "And no coach, either."
He scored twice and released Neymar for Barcelona's third. He's Houdini in a stripey shirt rather than a straitjacket. He cannot be contained.
Again, impertinent number-crunchers must shuffle along with their clipboards, pointing out that this was Messi's 100th European game and his 77th goal - an irrelevant fact in the circumstances.
To count the goals is to count the number of van Gogh paintings, da Vinci sketches or Lennon and McCartney compositions.
To compile the stats is to rack up the total of Federer forehand winners, Tendulkar centuries and Muhammad Ali knockouts.
To do any of the above is to miss the point entirely, to miss the wood for the trees.
To do any of the above is a hint to perhaps go home and rethink one's life.
Statisticians never accurately define or quantify an artist's worth. Beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder. The canvas never lies.
So remember these matches. Stockpile Messi's masterpieces like a greedy art collector. Cherish the privilege of watching the finest footballer of your lifetime.
Most of all, remember that moment when he floated the ball over Neuer and we all took off together.
Only football can make you feel like this.
That was the euphoric voice of Martin Tyler, the voice of football, the voice of reason. And he was right. But he could've been a little more specific.
Only Messi can make you feel like this.
77: Lionel Messi recaptured the record for Champions League goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and now has 77, including a competitionbest 10 in the latest edition.
'He is just a player who is impossible to describe. You have to watch him.'
- Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano
'When Messi is inspired, he is unstoppable and tonight he showed his talent again.'
- Barca defender Gerard Pique
'He is on another level but also look at how he ran in defence.'
- Barca coach Luis Enrique
'We couldn’t keep Messi out of the game for 90 minutes. You can’t keep tabs on such a quality individual.'
- Bayern defender Jerome Boateng
'He wanted to win that game and he did it again. You just give him the ball around the box and the rest is history. When you have Messi, it is a big advantage. When you have that man in your side, anything can happen.'
- Former Barca and Arsenal striker Thierry Henry
BY THE NUMBERS
111: Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar have scored 111 goals for Barcelona this season.
Pep powerless despite dominating possession
BREATHTAKING SECOND: Lionel Messi nonchalantly chipping the ball beyond Manuel Neuer with his weaker right foot. PHOTO REUTERS.
Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola had predicted there was nothing he could do to contain the sublime talent of Lionel Messi during their Champions League semi-final against Barcelona yesterday morning (Singapore time) - and he was proved right.
Bayern had 53 per cent of possession in their 3-0 first-leg defeat, which meant that for the first time in more than eight years, Barcelona had less of the ball in a Champions League clash.
Barca are renowned for their passing football based around controlling the game in the middle of the pitch and they had gone 96 games since December 2006, boasting a higher percentage of possession than their opponents.
Now Guardiola, who was at the helm of the Catalan side from 2008 to 2012, has instilled a similar approach at Bayern.
"We wanted to keep the ball, forcing them (Barca) backwards, making them run more," said Guardiola.
"When you have three in defence, you need to dominate and we didn't.
"Then, with four, we were more solid and Barca had fewer chances.
"It is not easy against Barca - we were able to stop them having the ball for spells but then at 1-0, we lost our way."
It was an emotional return for Guardiola to Barcelona, where he was an iconic figure as a player and then as a coach.
He oversaw a golden spell in the club's history, when the club picked up 14 trophies out of a possible 19.
Following the departure of Guardiola, Barca's football started to become more predictable and they were guilty at times of holding on to the ball for too long.
Luis Enrique's arrival this season heralded a more direct and exciting style of play that has once again allowed Messi to flourish.
The Argentinian unlocked the Bayern defence with some dazzling footwork in the final 15 minutes, before Neymar completed the victory.
Before the match, Guardiola had admitted that his team would be powerless to stop Messi on the ball and he reinforced this view afterwards.
"You need to make sure that he is not involved in the play and doesn't have the ball because, when he does, then there is nothing that you can do," he said.
"But Barca have other great players and they are a very solid team." - Reuters.