The Andy Cole Column: We all know Messi is great – the question is how do you stop him?

Fired Up! He now faces Arsenal in a match of two Total Football sides. What a prospect

The latest rich list of footballers' pay by France Football magazine was released yesterday and Lionel Messi has jumped to the top, making £29.6m in 2009 from salary, endorsements and sponsorships to put him above even David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. I have no idea how realistic these numbers are. But even if they're bang on, then Messi, frankly, is worth every penny.

In the perennial debates about the greatest player of all time, I take the view that I cannot judge Pele or George Best, because I never saw them play in the flesh. I don't doubt their genius but I grew up watching another, Diego Maradona. And now we're seeing a contender to rival Maradona develop in front of our eyes.

I know, I know. I'll have to join the queue to heap praise on Messi, who's still just 22. But even serial winners of major trophies are looking at this kid with awe.

I was fortunate enough to have a decent career. I was an OK striker who scored his share of goals. Essentially I had two assets; movement and pace. Gaining half a yard in the box can be worth a lot, and defenders always hate facing pace.

But I'm sure I'm not the only player with some titles and cup wins who can do nothing but look up – way, way up – at the sheer, utter brilliance of Messi.

I took my boy, Devante, who's on Manchester City's books, to watch Manchester United versus Liverpool at the weekend. He came away saying: "Dad, wasn't it great to see such class as Rooney and Torres? Against each other". He can spend hours talking football, looking and learning. I feel the same awe about Messi.

I watched his demolition of Zaragoza in Barcelona's 4-2 win in La Liga at the weekend, and if you haven't seen it, look at the highlights on YouTube. Before the game, Messi had scored eight goals in four games, including a hat-trick in his previous league game against Valencia, and two goals against Stuttgart in the Champions League. Then on Sunday he scored another hat-trick at Zaragoza to become the first player in Barca's history to score consecutive trebles in the league. That took his tally to 11 goals in five games.

His first goal was a header, at the end of a move he started. The second was a wonder. He started by literally wrestling the opposition No 8, Ander, for the ball – that little devil fighter is part of what makes Messi great – then dashed on goal, leaving twisted blood in his wake before finishing sweetly with his left. The third came from a ball from Andres Iniesta. Messi caressed it with one touch before curling it inside the post from the edge of the area.

Most players fit some conventional description, but Messi isn't just a striker or a midfielder; he's everywhere and everything. It's like the ball is Velcro-ed to his foot at times, his close control is that good. He's got that low centre of gravity, he'll scrap for the ball then take people on. He creates. He confuses.

If you're in an opposition team, it's hard to know who should try to handle him. Do you give that responsibility to the midfielders, and try to stop him getting involved deep? That doesn't seem to work because he's so persistent in that area to start moves. And then when he's started something, he's off to join the flood forward and see if he can get some of the action in finishing it. Have a look at the first goal from Sunday night.

Regular readers will know I'm a fan of Ronaldo, and an even bigger fan of the man who's assumed his mantle with quite astonishing success, Wayne Rooney. But Messi is on a higher plain than even that pair. A second World Player of the Year title is surely his for the taking.

The World Cup will have some bearing on that, but in this form there is no reason Messi can't carry Argentina way beyond where they could expect without him. If we're being brutally honest, England's hopes in South Africa probably rest with Rooney being as fit and in form for every England game as he has been for almost every match of United's season so far. And I don't necessarily think that reliance on one player to take you to another level is unusual, or even bad. It just happens. Logically, then, Messi too can galvanise and transform Argentina.

As for a more imminent assignment for Messi, he will face Arsenal next week in the Champions League in a match of two Total Football sides. What a prospect.

The fee for Andy Cole's column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar

News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'