Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Alan Green: Lionel Messi’s the best player I’ve ever seen

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates after scoring his first goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final first leg match between Real Madrid and Barcelona at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 27, 2011 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

There’s always at least one, isn’t there? While the overwhelming majority of callers to ‘6-0-6’ after the Champions League Final, including many gracious Manchester United fans, lauded the performance of Barcelona, along came Owen . . .

“Everybody’s got to stop beating themselves up about this . . . Barcelona aren’t that good . . . they’d struggle in the Premier League . . . they wouldn’t fancy having to play Wolves every week!”

I ask you: what put those ridiculous thoughts into his mind? Was he just trying to wind me up? No, he sounded serious enough as well as being undeniably stupid.

I won’t and never have got into any examination of how good this Barcelona team is relevant to other great sides of the past: whether they’re the best club side there’s ever been. How can you compare eras? Heck, I can barely remember the Real Madrid that won the first five European Cups (I was only eight at the time of the Hampden Park victory in 1960) and the wonderful Ajax team of the 70s registers scarcely more in my mind.

Can we not simply enjoy Guardiola’s side for what they undoubtedly are, the best team on the planet right now? And is there any serious doubt that Lionel Messi is the best player around?

Though, on the little Argentine, I’ll go further. I DO remember Maradona and, before him, Cruyff and Beckenbauer, Best and Pele. For me, Messi is the greatest player that I’ve ever had the privilege to see ‘in the flesh’, fortunately at least four or five times a season, and there is NOTHING in my work as a commentator that brings me more pleasure than watching him play.

I wonder if, seeing Messi so belittle his team on Saturday night, Sir Alex Ferguson still rates Ronaldo more.

Considering how forcefully the United manager assured us that all the necessary lessons had been learned from the experience of Rome 2009, I couldn’t help feeling he was spectacularly wrong. Three-one was a barely accurate scoreline to reflect Barcelona’s superiority.

And surely Sir Alex knows he has yet more — he’s well capable of doing it — major re-structuring to do with his team despite his dismissal of criticism levelled at United over the past season? I repeat: they are deserved champions of England but they are also ‘ordinary’ champions, a considerable distance behind Barcelona. To be fair, everybody else is as well.

The Catalans set so many examples for others to follow but a principal one is that they draw so many of their incredibly talented players from their own region and then nurture them. Of the team that played on Saturday night only Mascherano and Villa cost any substantial money to ‘import’ and, remember, though Messi is from Argentina he’s been with them since he was 13. I would contrast what Barcelona do with the profligacy of clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City.

And a final thought, if you’d been able to have those Barcelona players at the age of 12 or 13, like Messi, and put them through ANY top flight English club, would they have been ‘schooled’ to play in the way they did at Wembley? Not a chance.