The following write-up was meant to published after the 2nd leg match with PSG in the 2013 UCL-run. As I remember correctly, there were some fabulous post match publications here on BB following, that I instead, chose to hold off on this. But in honor of one of the most memorable off the bench appearances by Messi in that UCL match, and most notably, the godsend miracle performance against Real Madrid at the weekend, I dug this little number up back up from it's eternal rest and decided to publish it...here in Fanpost. So jump in the De Lorean with me and we'll set it for 10.04.2013. FC Barcelona Forever. Enjoy! -Brodie
After Lionel Messi was pulled midway in the UCL 1st Leg clash with PSG due to injury, all indications were that he would not be available for the turnaround match. It’s safe to say every fan of Barcelona held their collective breaths while tests were being done on the Argentine to evaluate the extent of the injury. The following weekend's Mallorca thumping came and went, and there was still no Messi. Fast-forward to moments before the second leg match at the Camp Nou, Vilanova made the decision to keep Messi on the bench at the advice of team doctors that he’d make the thigh injury worse.
The game started. For almost the entirety of the match Barcelona looked disheveled and lost. There was more lateral passing of the ball and passing back and resetting than actually going forward. Poorly weighted passes, lack of player movement defensive covering nearly cost Barcelona on numerous chances in build up that even Victor Valdes made an appearance with crucial saves, as PSG cut off passes and looked to capitalize on the mistakes with counters. The usual Tiki-taka stringing together of consecutive passes was absent. At certain points in the match, the Catalans even were operating like they’d to be content to play to a draw. However, the performance was highlighted by half-chances and sheer individual brilliance.
Still, PSG were well organized in the back. Up front, Pedro looked to be on his game from the get-go, racing wide and centering the ball again and again, and it was no surprise he got the goal later on. Villa and Fabregas were fed on numerous chances but fired shots wide and over. Iniesta was, as Iniesta always is, at will seemingly to toy with the defense all night – a stutter step and a shuffle here, a feint and pirouette there, dancing. PSG pressed most of the night, making Xavi almost disappear into his own half, even on rare occasions he was pushing forward, it didn’t really seem The Maestro was entirely on his game. Busquets made an appearance here and there. Alves’ passes looked like he was wearing the boots on the wrong foot.
Thank God the camera always seemed to pull away from the action when a pass didn’t connect or a shot was off target. Maybe the cameras too were disgusted with what they saw on the pitch from the Catalans, or maybe they just wanted to set the magnifying lens and track the reactions on face of Messi. Worry. Anxiety. Nervous tension. Lionel Messi was no longer in need of a manicure – he’d done the job himself chewing his nails in wait. Whatever it was, the cameras had also made a case for Messi to enter the fray.
To that point, it was definitely an awkward 50 minutes of Barcelona futbol. Then, PSG scored, maybe that was a blessing in disguise. The Camp Nou quieted to a near pin-drop nervous murmur. Nerves set in. Call it urgency or sheer desperation, but Vilanova pulled the trigger and gambled – big time, on what could have been an otherwise disastrous outcome – in which Barcelona could have crashed out of the UCL and Messi’s injury potentially worsening. Or you could say, Messi sang that famous John Fogerty song to Vilanova, "Put me coach, I’m ready to play!" Whatever the case, it was Game On.
What happened next cannot clearly be grasped or even comprehended. There are times in sports where stats rarely figure into the game. And they’re so difficult not to miss. These moments come with huge salaries, last name monikers and come at critical closing minutes in a competition. Most commonly these can be referred to as a sort of intangible tipping point – that less than 1% that determines EVERYTHING. The one moment that either gives you elephant balls or literally emasculates you on sight. Fight or flight.
This moment was clearly one of those, something that can only be judged by the eye-test. No stat needed when all that’s required of you are your senses.
The Camp Nou erupted in waves of cheers, as Messi began warming up. It was electrifying. A nervous but collective sigh of relief beset the crowd. Even the action on the pitch seemed of little importance as all eyes gazed upon the Argentine. The cameras pulled throughout the stadium, every fan wearing the Blaugranes colors had an ear-to-ear smile. The questions on their faces were quite simple to them, "Would Messi come out of this unscathed?", "Would he even be able to contribute?", "How much punishment could he handle if he decided to have a go with a classic Messi-run into the 18?" You’d bet heavily that if they weren’t clearly waving their hands in elation, those same hands were tucked away with fingers crossed hoping their #10 would survive.
On the other end of things, the PSG fans and players tensed into an expression and groan that can be best described as, "Oh shit, here we go." It was like watching passengers who are fully aware of an inevitable collision and an impending doom. The only thing they could do was brace for impact and hope for the best. The replay would be slow motion, eyes bulging, mouths gaping and debris in various form floating across. Okay, dark humor aside, it was still quite comical, actually – Ancelotti and his men shrieking that chick-in-a-horror-film scream, and then shrinking into a helpless defensive cocoon-like mentality, with Messi as the bogeyman that just won’t stay dead.
All of a sudden, the sleeping giant awoke. As soon as Messi stepped onto the pitch in place of Cesc, the whole psyche of Barcelona changed in the blink of an eye, at the mere presence of the Argentine. Even if Messi was moving about gingerly and seemingly almost hesitant and unsure about his own physical limits, the passes were instantaneously connecting, not at a dizzying pace most commonly seen otherwise, but they were definitely more fluid. The interchanging and movement was more urgent. The pitch seemed to tip towards the PSG-end with Barcelona gaining ground and creating space. The focus was back. It was all-out attack. It almost seemed unfair in a way to PSG, because deep down inside the feeling was as if they always knew we had the winning hand – we’d just been bluffing all evening. It took roughly 9" of play for Messi to put his mark on the game, shrugging off PSG players and slipping a needle-threader to Villa who loaded the barrel for Pedro. That goal was credit to Messi just as much as it was to Villa, who had been off-target all night – when you’re not on, pass it off. And it was a huge goal for Pedro as well.
There are players who are inventive – with the ability to create something out of nothing; magicians. There are players who are able to impact the game with all the little things – they’re the link in between. There are players who can take over a game single-handedly – crushing the opposition with one simple death-touch.
Simply put, there are players who seize moments of crisis and go beyond measurable statistics to simply will and inspire a team of a collective whole to believe in each other. If Xavi is the engine and Puyol is the heart, then Messi must be?
Hmm? Let’s not even attempt to even answer that. Not right now at least, because the legend continues to be re-written with every performance.