Messi: Ever-changing role but a constant genius

BARCELONA • Still, they gasp.

Still, after all Lionel Messi has done, long after his brilliance should have become commonplace, he can still bring a Nou Camp crowd of nearly 100,000 to its feet.

Even when everything is in flux - when Juventus' Cristiano Ronaldo can miss out on the Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2010, when guards seem to be changing - a 3-0 quarter-final, second-leg win over Manchester United featured football's one great, enduring constant.

That is Messi beaming after scoring and opponents left staring at a genius that defies belief.

This is, at a rough estimate, the fourth iteration of Messi, the latest in a series of upgrades from a winger to playing centrally to a false nine and now a position that defies categorisation.

It is tempting to wonder if this is going to be his ultimate form - listed as an attacker, but no longer hidebound by fixed positions.

He now goes where he likes, when he likes on the pitch, stationing himself in whatever position he thinks will cause most damage.

His teammates make the necessary adjustments as the Argentinian gets to work, which United found to their detriment on Tuesday night as he bagged his 23rd and 24th goals against English clubs - more than any other player.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus in anguish after missing out on the Champions League last four for the first time since 2010. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

But his genius is not something Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde "is going to apologise for".

He said post-game: "Messi always gets us out of trouble... Leo always turns up in the important games, not just in the big moments, but throughout the whole game."

There are, without doubt, flaws in this Barcelona team, spaces to exploit, weaknesses to expose. Yet as long as the 31-year-old is playing, they may not matter, with his side into the semi-finals for the first time since 2015.

While he is not taking anything for granted, declaring "any team (in the last four) is complicated", Messi is now three games from equalling Ronaldo's record of five Champions League winning medals.

Although his rival extended his record goal tally in the competition to 126, he was unable to end Juve's 23-year European Cup drought - the reason he was signed last July.

Juve coach Massimiliano Allegri has, however, defended him and their €100 million (S$153 million) outlay, insisting: "Ronaldo gave us a lot during the season. We signed him to increase our chances... In football, one plus one doesn't always make two. "

Italian dailies have likened their exit to an "apocalypse" as Juve shares yesterday lost more than €270 million, or 16 per cent.

Spanish news outlets, on the other hand, believe that with Messi, "this is our year".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2019, with the headline 'Messi: Ever-changing role but a constant genius'. Print Edition | Subscribe