Brilliant, beautiful Lionel Messi gifts an 'I was there' moment against Manchester City


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The Independent Football

It was the viewpoint, high up in the gods, which most accentuated the sense that you were bearing witness to something beyond the bounds of normality, the essence of which El Pais captured with its headline “Que no pare nunca” (“He never stops”), above an image of Lionel Messi. Bacary Sagna was on the ground beneath his feet, grabbing at his shirt as he accelerated by.

The pathways on which Messi navigated the ball across the Nou Camp grass could be seen in plain view from that lofty position and it was something quite beautiful to behold. It was the night of the nutmeg, on which James Milner discovered that there is a particular kind of humiliation when you are left sitting on your backside in front of 92,551 people by a player who has just sent a ball through your legs with his instep. It was in that moment that the low incantation of “Messi, Messi” started thundering through the place, though by then the stadium was becoming acclimatised to the fact that this was a gilded night like none other. It was the way Messi drove the ball through Fernandinho’s legs, 20 minutes earlier, which brought a more startled roar of astonishment from those who were bearing witness.

In those dreadful moments for City, your mind turned back to the negative sentiments expressed by the Real Madrid paper, Marca, when City had last arrived to play here precisely a year ago. The cover story, astonishing in retrospect, featured Las horas mas bajas de Messi – “the lowest ebb of Messi” – with statistics to bear out a generally held sentiment that he had lost energy and activity in games.

Wednesday was the night when the shiny, shallow apparatus of football – the propaganda, the preening – evaporated away and we were left the unalloyed, brilliant, simplicity of the player with ball at his feet, navigating it wheresoever he chose. Pep Guardiola saw that, too. The uncomplicated brilliance of what we were witnessing was reflected back by the look on his face.

And for the Manchester City chief executive, Ferran Soriano, well, there will have been a more acute and unsettling kind of sentiment because there was a time when he knew this boy like one of his own. Soriano accompanied Messi to one of the Ballon d’Or ceremonies, where winning is as much of an obsession for Barcelona as a title, and told him: “Say something in English if you have to step up,” or words to that effect. Messi quietly told him that if he had to do that then he would not even go up to the stage. It has remained Soriano’s belief that Messi’s shyness means he will never leave Barcelona. And if that is true it means that the prospect of what we witnessed on Wednesday night will potentially be in front of City for many a year. You would give the earth to witness it once more.