You can take the Ballon D’or, the Pichichi, and all the other records and throw them into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Because if you wanted an answer as to whom the best player in the world is, it came towards the conclusion of Barcelona’s first-leg, semifinal clash against Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.
The match had been at a deadlock for well over an hour when Messi suddenly turned it on. His first strike came in the 77th minute when from out of nowhere, he fired home a shot from the edge of the box that left the otherwise outstanding Manuel Neuer no chance in the Bayern goal.
He struck again just three minutes later, when he was played in by a nice pass from Ivan Rakitic, used a simple change of direction to send Bayern defender Jerome Boateng sprawling, and beat Neuer for the second time on the night. Neymar went on to score again in extra time, all but extinguishing Bayern’s hopes of a comeback.
The question has been asked before – by this writer even – but it’s worth asking again: Where was this Messi last summer in Brazil? In the space of three minutes, the diminutive Argentine genius singlehandedly dispatched a Bayern side that was made up of largely the same group of players he’d lost to in the World Cup final last July. If only…
And as Messi has returned to his best, or perhaps is reaching even greater heights, Barcelona has reasserted its claim on the title of “best club side in world football.” The in-form team of 2015, Barça are now looking strong favorites to win La Liga, the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. He may have got off to a rocky start, but Barça coach Luis Enrique could be on the verge of a first season in charge that approaches the heights of Pep Guardiola’s legendary debut season in 2008-09.
How ironic that it was Guardiola’s Bayern team on the receiving end of Messi and Barcelona’s unstoppable dynamism this week. But then, the former Barça coach knows better than anyone the danger posed by Messi; it was Guardiola who transformed Messi from a promising attacker into the best in the world.
“When he plays like this, there is no stopping him,” Guardiola told the press earlier this week. “It’s impossible. He is used to players defending against him any way they can and he always ends up enjoying success. He is too good.”
As he was on the great Barça team of a few years ago, when he played off the brilliance and vision of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, Messi is surrounded by talented players. But Luis Suarez and Neymar open up space in different ways for Messi, who under Enrique has taken a deeper-lying role to devastating effect, as we saw in Barça’s 8-0 trashing of Cordoba last weekend and the 3-0 win over Bayern in midweek.
Whether it’s a team bound for the Segunda Division next season or one that was considered favorites to win the Champions League, it matters little to Lionel Messi in his current form. And as his former coach said, when he’s playing like this, it’s difficult to imagine anyone stopping him, or Barcelona.