Best Player, reporters' view: Lionel Messi
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Our Barcelona reporter Graham Hunter, who had the pleasure of watching UEFA Best Player in Europe nominee Lionel Messi last season, recounts the striker's stunning 2014/15.
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Across all his competitive matches last season Lionel Messi scored 58 goals and, for good measure, broke nearly as many records.
All-time leading scorer in the Liga, most hat-tricks for any Spanish club, most assists in the history of Spain's top flight ... as, all the while, he and Cristiano Ronaldo played 'anything you can do, I can do better' in breaking and rebreaking the all-time scoring tally in the UEFA Champions League. Just a sample.
Consider, too, that he and his team-mates made history in becoming the first club – and first group of six players comprising the Argentinian maestro, Xavi Hernández, Gerard Piqué, Andrés Iniesta, Sergio Busquets and Daniel Alves – to have won the fabled trophy treble twice.
If we just stop to draw breath it's unmissable that, notwithstanding his remarkable career up to this point, season 2014/15 was simply stellar by his or anyone's standards. Which makes it all the more remarkable that one match, branded on the memories of all who saw it, stands out above all his other brilliance.
Was it the Copa del Rey final?
That was when he picked up the ball on the right wing, not a new position for him but one for which he once held antipathy, and scored a remarkable – apparently unfeasible – goal. That night I sat beside former UEFA Champions League semi-finalist, Argentinian international and Barcelona full-back Juan Pablo Sorín.
He's seen it all – or almost all. But he simply held his hands to his head in shock at the elastic, electric genius that brought Messi his slalom-goal against Athletic Club's massed defenders. But, no, it wasn't that match.
Nor was it the title-winning victory at reigning Liga champions Atlético Madrid when Messi again showed preternatural speed and agility to notch the 1-0 goal that guaranteed the title would head to the Camp Nou. Nor even the UEFA Champions League elimination of Manchester City where his individual performance had the watching Bayern München coach Josep Guardiola dropping his jaw and copying Sorín's 'hands-on-head' astonishment.
Against this backdrop of sustained, all-time excellence it was Messi's 17-minute destruction of an otherwise ordered, intelligent and stubborn Bayern at the Camp Nou in the semi-final first leg which epitomises why he should be UEFA Best Player in Europe 2014/15. Thrashing the ball past Manuel Neuer from distance, mesmerising and unbalancing Jérôme Boateng for the second and setting up the definitive 3-0 goal for Neymar – this was work to prove that even within the small category of genius sportsmen, there are still levels. And Messi's is far, far above the rest.