I am currently staying in Barcelona, exploring the culture and ethos behind the remarkable success of FC Barcelona as part of my ongoing professional development.
A part of the process, I went to Camp Nou last night to watch Barca play Valencia.
What an experience! An awesome stadium and a world-class team that encompasses one of the greatest world-class players, Lionel Messi. The team structure offers Messi freedom within a gilded cage.
The magical feet and the timely, but ferocious running pace of the Argentinian destroyed Valencia, as he scored four of Barca´s goals in their 5-1 win which also marked his 200th appearance for the Catalan giants.
Developing a team which incorporates a playing genius is a tough act for any coach, but my sense is that Messi´s professionalism, understated character, and exceptional work-rate, make it simpler.
I feel privileged to have been part of his special occasion last night. To be so close to the action as he chipped the goal-keper for his fourth goal is a moment I will never froget. The man is a sensation as a footballer.
From my childhood, I can remember watching my hero Bobby Moore and listening to my father´s stories about the great Duncan Edwards (and others from The Busby Babes´´ team which died in the Munich Air Disaster of 1958) and also the great England forward line of Matthews, Mannion, Lawton, Carter and Finney. I can vaguely recall George Best and Pele´s playing days, and have watched tapes of their remarkable performances, as well as listened to interviews where legendary football people have extolled their virtues as footballing geniuses. But can there have been a better footballer than Lionel Messi?
I saw Maradona play fairly regularly on Channel 4´s ´Football Italia´, and also during World Cups, where he virtually destroyed international teams (single-handedly!) on the biggest stage. When a sporsperson delivers their top performance with the stakes at their highest, then you know you are witnessing a special talent.
Maybe Messi has to accomplish such feats before he can be truly regarded as the greatest footballer. However, I reckon he must be mighty close already.
As a footnote to the ´Camp Nou Experience´, I will leave it to the Barca Coach Pep Guardiola to put into words the feelings I have for this remarkable football team:
´´We´re so lucky to be living in a time when these players play. This team dignifies the sport.´´
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