Forget the stats and science, Messi proves football is defined by its greatest player
Football has become so bogged down in its own self-importance, so give thanks for players like Messi who cut through the bull
Do we have to analyse how last night’s events unfolded in the Nou Camp? Dare we? Is there any point?
Is a forensic examination of Luis Enrique’s tactical plan necessary? Will history record how Pep Guardiola was outwitted, his philosophy undermined, his religious devotion to a high pressing game exposed?
No. We should not go there. Instead, we should bow at the feet of Lionel Messi and say thank you.
We should dispatch a bouquet to Barcelona to acknowledge the purity of his game and the talent he applies so exquisitely. And most of all, we should revere the little genius for showing that - contrary to an increasingly obnoxious counter argument - football is so much more about personality and individuality than it is about logarithms, statistics and formations.
Messi shows us football is an art, not a science, and for those of us who believe the game a feast for the eyes rather than a series of equations, he is a gift from the footballing Gods.
The football industry has become so bogged down in its own self-importance, it needs players like Messi to cut through the bull and show you that ultimately, it always has been and always will be about the talent in those boots.
We should worship at the temple of players such as Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez because they expose the recent movement towards ‘academia’ in football for what it is – invented solely to inflate the self-importance of those who want to turn the game into a series of laboratory experiments.
Football clubs are being overrun with non-entities chronicling the game’s multitude of unpredictable events in an increasingly ludicrous effort to conclude success can be planned by observing trends rather than hiring naturally brilliant footballers.
Here is the only fashion you need to know about football. When you have a genius in your team, you win more trophies. If you have been fortunate enough to have a Pele, Maradona, Messi or Ronaldo born in your vicinity – or even pale imitations merely fantastic rather than prodigious – you can sit back and watch the upward trajectory of that form graph.
We all love tactics. Of course we do. We all know our 4-4-2 from our 4-3-3, to our sweeper systems, wing-backs, false nines, pressing games and deep sitting 4-5-1 and… well, do you know what, that’s just about it, isn’t it? Hearing some managers (and journalists) nowadays you’d think the variants need condensing into an equation by Stephen Hawking.
“Oh, how he out-manouevred everyone with his cunning plan to sit deep and use his pacey winger to hit on the counter attack. What will he come up with next?”
It is elitist drivel for much of the time, failing to acknowledge that at its heart, coaching and managing a football team is about identifying and facilitating. Guardiola said as much himself.
“Messi makes me a better manager,” was his observation while working at the Nou Camp. Has Enrique now passed Guardiola in the coaching charts? Of course not – he has merely proved himself capable of getting as much out of Messi.
There are great managers who can get the most from average teams, and average managers who can ruin great teams, but up to a certain level they are all much of a much-ness.
Guardiola, like his nemesis Jose Mourinho, stands apart from others because of courage, work ethic, a winning mentality and charisma, but most of all because (unlike the imitators) the best managers recognise the game is about the players rather than themselves. That’s why so many who have played under Guardiola and Mourinho remain devotees long after their careers are over. Sir Alex Ferguson was the same. The single biggest reason he won so much is because he bought so bloody well.
The reason our own columnist Gary Neville has elevated football punditry to a new level (alongside his TV sidekick Jamie Carragher) is because they know the difference between insight and soulless analysis. They bring the human quality of the game, separating the planned from the improvised; the lucky from the rehearsed; the touches that demonstrate genius and the mistakes exposing ineptitude.
A personal view is it is depressing the likes of Neville and Carragher are spending more time in the studio than at a football club, while the geeks with their pie charts have an increasing influence over our game and the way decisions are taken.
You may shake your head in disbelief, but somewhere close to you will be a performance analyst who did not see Barcelona’s destruction of Bayern Munich as the consequence of one of the greatest individual performances in Champions League history.
They’ll be too busy assessing the heat maps, yardage data and fascinating shifts from a back three to back four to believe the winning of a football match can ever truly be down to one little man.
So thank you Lionel Messi. You are a timely reminder that while football will always love its greatest managers, it continues to be defined by its greatest players.