Priceless Maestro: The World At His Feet

Perhaps the most striking thing about Lionel Messi’s second goal against Bayern Munich at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night was its gentleness. There were 80 minutes gone when Messi approached Jerome Boateng, feigned to go inside but instead glided to his right, not so much a dribble as a kind of lullaby, leaving Boateng, Manuel Neuer and finally Rafinha lying down very gently on their backs in their own penalty area as the ball floated into the back of the net. In the space of five perfect strides Messi had effectively put the Bayern defence to sleep, lulled into a drowsy supplication at his feet by a moment of controlled gymnastic perfection.

“Messi is unstoppable,” Pep Guardiola shrugged at the end of Barcelona’s 3-0 first-leg victory, which sounded at first a little cute, an evasion of responsibility from a coach whose gameplan had clearly failed. Pep’s trip to the Camp Nou had ended the way Pep’s trips to the Camp Nou always used to, with an opposition coach frazzled and outmanoeuvred, eyes bulging on the touchline. On this occasion that coach happened to be Pep himself, halfway through a semi-final billed as a collision of influence between player and manager, a peeling back of the synergy between the two.

At the end of which it is tempting to conclude what some have already suggested – that Guardiola is a genius when he’s got some geniuses to genius for him. And that Messi is simply Messi, a player who is, after a slight but undeniable hiatus, once again operating to a different set of physical rules; and who has just produced something that might just rank among the all-time club football performances. It is easy to go overboard here, to get drunk on superlatives. Just as it is also easy to become inured by repetition to the pitch of Messi’s brilliance. But this was a genuinely rare combination: a great player producing a great performance against great opposition at the vital moment in an elite competition.

Bayern were without some heavyweight players, but they remain a genuine powerhouse opponent, managed by a princeling of the modern age, and stuffed through with World Cup winners. And yet Messi’s performance in victory was not simply ruthless, it was decorative too, shot through with moments of grace and beauty, the work of a 10-year club football superstar who still appears to believe that he’s playing a game rather than carrying out a tactic or executing a plan.

At the Camp Nou Messi scored two brilliant goals, made a third and at times yawned his way around champion opponents like a man tactfully avoiding a gaggle of overheated toddlers in a high street coffee shop. Often he took the ball and shimmied past two or three men, operating within a kind of fermata, events slowed and paused around him, and providing a reminder that he remains one of the great dribblers, master of the flip-flap, the surge, the amphetamine-crazed-millipede shift of feet.

The Twitter reaction to Messi's incredible second goal, in which the Barcelona star effectively crossed Bayern Munich defender Boateng to the ground before chipping over goalkeeper Neuer with his weaker right foot (watch it above). Naturally, notable names in the football world loved it:

But it didn't stop there. Over in the United States, some of the biggest athletes were blown away by the move:

Source: Twitter, YouTube, ESPN, The Guardian, Associate Press, Fox Sports

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