The famously insular world of English football has been quick to crown Wayne Rooney as the best player in the world in recent weeks – unsurprisingly perhaps in a World Cup year – but in Barcelona on Wednesday night, Lionel Messi demonstrated exactly why those claims ring hollow with a masterful performance in a 4-0 rout of Stuttgart.
Speculation that Rooney is football’s leading light is far from outrageous. It is not, for example, a manifestation of the unjustified national arrogance that was exposed so horribly when Hungary humbled an overconfident England side with a 6-3 victory at Wembley in 1953, shattering illusions of grandeur. But it should be recognised that Messi is on another level – a once-in-a-lifetime talent. There is no excuse for a superiority complex on the part of Rooney or England.
Tormenting the visitors from the Bundesliga with his superior technique and utter genius, Messi was a force of nature. His run and finish for the opening goal was stunning – a mazy dribble followed by a thunderous drive from the edge of the box.
Nine minutes later it was his glorious pass that released Yaya Toure, who squared for Pedro to turn home the second. Messi then made it three in the second half with a quick spin and finish.
Nominally employed in an unorthodox central role in behind Thierry Henry, the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year was given licence to roam the Camp Nou turf and he did not disappoint, exuding threat on either flank or through the middle. But while his masterclass would represent the very peak of excellence for many a professional footballer, for Messi it was not even his best performance in the past week.
On Sunday, he took his league tally to 22 goals in 23 games with a delightful hat-trick against Valencia in a 3-0 win for Barcelona. After Barca’s statement of intent on Wednesday night, he now boasts 29 in 32 games in all competitions. And while Rooney compares favourably in this regard – with 32 in 36 games – there is no disputing that in Messi, Barcelona have the world’s finest player at present.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s protege is in the form of his life though, there is no question about that. Deadly in the box, he has married a collection of predatory strikes with a catalogue of headed efforts. But they are not goals that cause jaws to drop in amazement and fans to forward on YouTube links with childish enthusiasm.
Messi, with his precocious dribbling skills, expert finishing, raw pace and brilliant football brain, scores such goals on a ridiculously regular basis. Moments that engage the imagination are his stock in trade, and he produced another on Wednesday night with that thrilling first goal.
Perhaps Messi is the 21st-century Diego Maradona to Rooney’s Pele – a magician to rival a hungry and deadly accumulator of goals. A banner inside Old Trafford oft declares the Manchester United man to be the white incarnation of the Brazilian great while Messi has done so much more than a succession of Argentinean starlets to justify comparisons with a man who remains a deity in his home country.
But prior to kick-off, Barca goalkeeper Victor Valdes just about got it right, saying of Messi: “He’s the best in the world. What he contributes with his talent makes him stand out. He could become the best player in history.”
Wednesday night’s display has only reinforced such a view. Rooney, for all his talent and prolific form, is not in this league.
*source & image : soccernet