Three weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending Barcelona-Granada at the Camp Nou. That concluded one of my aims of visiting the largest (club) stadiums in England, Italy and Spain. While both Old Trafford and San Siro are extraordinary stadiums, Camp Nou is perhaps even more special to visit. As the biggest stadium in Europe, there is something almost mythical about the place. Personally it felt like visiting the Colosseum of Football.
The best part of the visit and the game was the opportunity to watch Lionel Messi live for the first time in my life. After all, any football fan should embrace the chance to enjoy the best player of all time live with open arms. Obviously, I was no different. I had been waiting for years to finally see the unmatchable magic of football’s greatest artist in the same place where it actually happens, rather than through a TV-screen.
Growing up in northern Sweden, where the local club Bodens BK at the height of its powers competed in the Swedish Superettan (the equivalent of the English Championship), the opportunity to go and see the greatest players in the world up close hardly presented itself. While the 5-1 hammering of AIK (one of Sweden’s big clubs) was an obvious highlight for the club, I’m sure the likes of BBK legends, and my future teammates, David Roberts, Emil Johansson and Peter Gitselov would forgive me for saying Boden wasn’t the place to enjoy the best football the world had to offer.
As you understand, my solution to watch football of the highest quality became to travel. Most of these trips have been to England in general and Manchester in particular. Old Trafford and Manchester United still create a buzz that won’t ever be beaten by any team in the world for me, and after watching artists like Paul Scholes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney at the peak of their powers on my first visit it created a longing for more. So the trips continued. Dimitar Berbatov, Kaká, Ryan Giggs, Daniele De Rossi, Joaquin, David Silva and David Villa were soon added to my list of outstanding footballers I’d seen live as Old Trafford was joined by the Mestalla and the San Siro among others on my stadium list.
When my lovely girlfriend Elin (God bless her) suggested (!) we’d go and watch Barcelona on our trip there I became as giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve. I quickly purchased tickets and the wait began. And about six weeks before the trip, Messi got injured.
If you really, really love art, I’m sure seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Musée du Louvre would be an amazing experience. Equally, if you love the works of Michelangelo, the enjoyment can hardly be described at seeing his iconic statue of David or his remarkable painting in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel up close. And if you love classical music, the feeling you develop listening to the sweet, sweet symphonies of Mozart can hardly be described in words. Therefore, you can understand my excitement of finally watching Lionel Messi play football after being mesmerized by his total domination of the biggest sport in the world over the last decade.
Fortunately, Messi returned to fitness before the Granada game and even scored a hat-trick against Manchester City ten days earlier so as we made our way up the many, many stairs of the Camp Nou to finally find our seats in the Gol Nord section of the stadium my excitement was close to the limit. It hardly diminished when players like Neymar, Luis Suárez, Andreas Pereira, Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic entered the pitch for the warm up. Oh, and Messi was there too, starting the game as captain due to Andrés Iniesta’s absence. The stage was set, Suárez received the Golden Boot, Camp Nou was filling up and Messi was playing. And I was there.
The game itself was hardly exciting. In fact, it was one of the dullest games I’d ever watched. Granada came extremely defensive in a 5-4-1 and Barcelona were severely missing the immaculate passing of Sergio Busquets and Iniesta. And Messi had probably one of the worst games of his career. Possibly even the worst. At least that’s the way it felt, most likely due to my unreal expectation of the great man. 0-0 at half-time seemed typical. “Just because I’m here” was the feeling after 45 minutes. After all, Granada were bottom of league and isn’t every La Liga game supposed to be a comfortable 6-0 win for Barcelona and Real Madrid? Obviously not, as I can attest to everyone who loves to complain about the quality in Spain when it’s quite clearly the best league in Europe.
Three minutes after the start of the second period, Messi won the game for Barcelona. Surprise, surprise. A one-two with Suárez was followed by a quick acceleration and a pass to Rafinha, who set up Neymar to hit the post before the rebound came back to Rafinha who finished with an emphatic over-head kick. Game over.
Suárez, Neymar and Messi all had chances to add to the lead but didn’t, and the game finished 1-0. In all honesty I was disappointed by Barcelona and Messi who spent most of the match walking, never tracking back and making previously unseen technical mistakes, but still, it was an unreal experience. Some of Messi’s touches were out of this world, and some of the passes he produced were jaw-dropping. He created the goal with his brilliant burst through the centre, and it is really special watching this little man receive the ball surrounded by two, three or four opponents trying to kick or dispossess him only to see the little magician dribble his way out of pressure.
Up until three weeks ago I was adamant Paul Scholes was the best player I’d ever seen live. Now I’m convinced Lionel Messi is. And this comes after probably his worst performance for years. Still, Messi was decisive. Still, Messi mesmerized. He’s a ridiculously talented player, you can never ever say otherwise. The same way people marvel at the works of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Mozart I marvel at the works of Messi. Sometimes I call him the Da Vinci of football.
Messi turns 30 next year. He might not be able to dazzle football for many more years. I, and I can’t stress this enough, highly recommend spending a weekend in Barcelona (one of the coolest cities in Europe) and going to watch this genius at work. So go there, enjoy Barcelona, enjoy Barca, enjoy Messi.Even when Messi has a bad game he is still the best player I’ve seen. He does things other players can only dream of.
Imagine if he’s got a good game.