As executioner or conductor, Barcelona star Lionel Messi is the best

Forward continues to make his case as the best player eve

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The Independent Online

He was, said his mentor, Pep Guardiola, the best player who has ever kicked a football, better even than Pele. Lionel Messi is heading to his third European Cup final and he seems more in command of his powers now even than when he destroyed Manchester United at Wembley four years ago.

The two legs of the semi-final against Bayern Munich showed both facets of his game. In the 3-0 victory at the Nou Camp that decided the tie, he was the executioner. In the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night, he was the orchestrator, beginning the moves that led to Neymar’s two goals that snuffed out any faint talk of the “Miracle of Munich”.

Barcelona are through to another European Cup final. It seems so obvious, so natural. One more step on a glittering pathway for football’s Harlem Globetrotters. Except that this season it has been one strewn with plenty of rocks. Like the two other members of Barcelona’s “Trident”, Messi returned to Catalonia after a painful World Cup.

For Luis Suarez, there had been the scandal of the bite on Giorgio Chellini, the ban from all football and his exit from Liverpool. At first, Suarez struggled to make an impact in the Nou Camp, then he became adept at the art of the assist. In Munich, he set up two more almost unmissable chances for Neymar.

By the time Barcelona came to Manchester City in February, Suarez was once more the forward that everyone on Merseyside, who now had to make do with Mario Balotelli, knew him to be.

Neymar had finished the World Cup flat on his back, with reports of his spinal injury treated on Brazilian television like the Kennedy assassination. He missed Brazil’s 7-1 humiliation by Germany and watched Mario Götze win the World Cup, the role he no doubt felt should have been his. Götze, incidentally, was allocated just five minutes of Tuesday’s semi-final.

Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that Spain’s National Court has accepted the state prosecutor’s request to open a fraud trial examining Neymar’s transfer from Santos. It is alleged that Barcelona’s then president, Sandro Rossell, deliberately underdeclared the official fee of £41m (more than three quarters of which went to Neymar’s parents) in a scheme to avoid paying tax.

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Messi, 27, has 53 goals this season so far

Tax, or rather the non-payment of it, has been something that has stalked Messi. His World Cup had been a difficult one. His long struggle to convince doubters that the only thing that is Argentine about him is his accent finished in the World Cup final in the Maracana, where he achieved almost nothing.

The sight of Messi in the dock over the complicated way that payments for image rights were shunted into offshore tax havens may still go ahead, although some on the left in Argentina doubt it.

The socialist politician, Alberto Garzon, remarked: “In this country, if your name is Messi, you pay what is necessary, you negotiate with the exchequer, you don’t go to prison. That is not justice; it is unworthy of the name.”

In January, when his relationship with Barça’s manager, Luis Enrique, appeared frayed, Messi found himself at the Ballon D’Or awards in Zurich, where he made the throwaway, highly political remark that he did not know where he would be playing next season. Everyone knows where Messi will be come August – where he has been since he was a 13-year-old. Sir Alex Ferguson grudgingly said that while Cristiano Ronaldo could play for any team on earth, Messi could only shine at Barcelona.

It may be true but what has been astonishing is how brilliantly he has played since Zurich. And when Messi shines for Barcelona, Guardiola is right. There is nobody better.

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