Being named the Ballon d’Or Best Footballer four times, Olympic gold medal winner, five La Liga titles and three Champions League titles; he’s determined to break more records. Or should we say set new records?
Having netted 401 career goals without having reached his 28th birthday, the Barcelona wonder is set to play against PSG.
Still a formidable force, the Argentine has returned from his hamstring problem a different player to the one hailed as the game’s greatest goalscorer cum footballer in 2012.
Messi is set to return to Paris, a city he probably doesn’t have many good memories with. The Barcelona man watched in disappointment as he was out of the squad for the 2006 Champions League final at the Stade de France due to injury and was then side-lined with a hamstring problem picked up in last year’s CL clash at the Parc des Princes. Yes it is the return of European football tonight with Barca will be playing PSG which have the services of forwards Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edison Cavani. Their new summer signing David Luiz for a world record fee for a defender of £50m to pair him up with his Brazilian counterpart Thiago Silva. Despite the record amount for the defender, Brazil were thrashed in a humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat to World champions Germany. Luckily FC Barcelona do not have any German players.
Barcelona beat PSG in last year’s Champions League quarter-finals on away goals. But this time, PSG seem to have strengthened their squad with their new signings and look forward to host the Spanish side. Barca coach, Luis Enrique in an interview said “PSG could win the CL.” Coming from a manager who has been unbeaten this season seems like the clash of the two European powers will be interesting.
That game, arguably, marks a watershed moment in the Argentine’s astonishing career. All appeared normal as the forward fired Barca into the lead late in the first half, but several minutes later he felt a sharp pain in his thigh on a trademark run into the area. He didn’t reappear after the break.
In his absence, Barca were pegged back to a 2-2 draw and he was nowhere near fit for the second leg in the Catalan capital. Nevertheless, with the Blaugrana a goal down and heading for a last-eight exit, Tito Vilanova sent on a limping Leo and the Camp Nou crowd were lifted immediately. And one moment of magic proved sufficient as Messi helped set up Pedro for the clincher on away goals in a 3-3 aggregate draw.
Since his injury in Paris, the Argentine has scored 49 goals from 58 appearances for the Catalan club. This is in the down low compared to his remarkable 73 goals in 60 games in 2011-12 and had 57 in 45 till he went off injured the next season at PSG in April 2013.
“Messi is a player on a different level to the rest, but he had a lot of muscular problems and he was less participative for a while,” former Barcelona defender Miguel Angel Nadal told Goal.com. “He still scored a lot of goals, but he suffered and the whole team suffered.
“There were lots of things that affected Barcelona: Eric Abidal’s illness, what happened with Tito, [Pep] Guardiola’s exit… there were a lot of circumstances. The team last season was adapted to Tata’s ideas, but some of the ambition was missing and the play was less fluid. All of that contributed too.”
Back in form this term with five goals and seven assists already, it is nevertheless a very different Messi to the one that started against PSG in April last year. ”Neymar is in his second season and Barca have more alternatives than before,” Nadal added. “They won’t be relying on only Messi to score goals as they did previously.”
But the thing about Leo is that he is difficult to judge. He has been described as a “genius” by Argentine legend Diego Maradona, a “phenomenon” by deadly Dutch striker Marco van Basten while Manchester United’s Radamel Falcao once asked: “Is Messi a real player or a PlayStation character?”
So let’s not jump into conclusions about his ability to knick goals and provide the lead his team to another CL title. Critics haven’t yet found the right words to describe his recent form as it may not be his full potential, but it is definitely world class. We all should be expecting an exciting game and hopefully see the previous Leo Messi dazzling and mesmerising us with his ability. The flea, being only 28 years of age shows promise of ending up in the sporting history books, but whilst his time on the pitch is still young, expect the unexpected.