This is what the beautiful game is all about.
‘It’s like something from the Playstation.’ Those were the words of Luis Suarez when asked about the performance of teammate Lionel Messi during last night’s derby matchup versus Espanyol.
He wasn’t far off with this sentiment. There were genuinely times last night when Messi did not look human.
The ease with which he was able to beat the visiting side’s defenders was at times laughable.
But it wasn’t humorous because the defending of Espanyol was poor… It was laughable that any player could actually do these things with a football.
Messi was not beating 1 or 2 players at a time. He was beating 4 or 5. And there was simply nothing that they could do about it.
It’s funny. On any other night, it would be Andres Iniesta, Luis Suarez and Neymar, who were all sensational last night, that would be picking up the plaudits.
Iniesta looked back to his imperious best, beating players at ease and running the game from his central midfield berth.
Suarez scored two and set up one with a delightful chipped pass for the Catalunyan side’s fourth.
And Neymar was pulling some of the most sumptuous pieces of individual skill you are ever likely to witness on the pitch.
Yet, despite all of this, there was just one man’s name on the lips of football fans worldwide this morning.
As he picked the ball up on the edge of their fierce rival’s box midway through the second-half (after some equally mind-boggling work from Andres Iniesta), it looked as though there was nothing on for the Argentinian.
He was faced with four defenders, and any other player on the planet would likely have turned back in search of a teammate. But this wasn’t any other player, this was Lionel Messi.
Pushing the ball on one side of the first defender and following it on the other, he skipped by the next with consummate ease. He then cut inside the next defender, before dropping his shoulder to beat the last and get a shot on goal.
The Barcelona ace didn’t do this over the space of 20 or 30 yards. He did it in 7 or 8. His close control was other-worldly, and the goal would genuinely have been viewed as one of the greatest ever had it gone in.
It didn’t, and Suarez smashed in the rebound, but it didn’t matter. Messi was just happy that his team had scored. He wheeled away with a huge smile, celebrating his Uruguayan counterpart’s finish as if it had been his own.
This was just one of four of the finest individual runs you are ever likely to see in a game, all coming from the 5-time Ballon D’Or winner.
There is not a defender in the world that could have marked the 29-year-old on this form.
There were times last night as I sat watching Leo go to work that I could not help but smile from cheek to cheek. Fans often say they become mesmerised by the talents of a certain player, but this was on another level. I was entranced, dumbfounded, awestruck.
And the Camp Nou faithful clearly felt the same, standing in unison as 100,000 fans bowed and chanted the name of the little Argentine.
The performance of Lionel Messi last night was everything that is good about the game we love. It was majestic, entertaining, and beautiful.
It was the showing of a true artist, and, as I witnessed Messi volley the ball into the net with the outside of his foot with such consummate ease for Barca’s fourth, I found myself questioning… How could any player have ever been as good as Messi?
They haven’t, there hasn’t been, and there never will be.
Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer of all-time, and he proved it once again last night.