Barcelona and Lionel Messi: Are They No Longer the Best in the World?
On Wednesday, powerhouse FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium was brought to a librarian hush over the 3-nill thrashing by Germany’s FC Bayern Munich in the ever-enthralling UEFA Champion’s League, Europe’s intramural of top teams across all national leagues.
The presumed Spanish league winners are mortified to be thwarted on an aggregate 7-0 (over two games in the Champions League's home and away game series format) to the German super-club, and the footballing world is left to more agressively question this generation of FC Barcelona’s claim to being the best team ever.
Actually, now that I think of it, I’m tired of explaining the planet-sized significance of soccer to my fellow Americans, so maybe I’ll just quit….PSYCHE! I’m not!
European football is a game of both individuals and team functioning. The stars get scrutinized and lionized to the tune of millions of euros, there is always a "man of the match," and if you make a mistake or disappoint, prepare for a personal bashing from anyone and everyone with an accent.
However, team strategies and styles of play range from complex statistical fare, to good-old fundamentalist dogma, and are equally picked through with microscopic discretion by fans and journalists alike.
Barcelona’s beloved team is perhaps the greatest example of both the collective and individual zenith of the modern game.
As a team, they are like a cult of telepathic wizards. Imagine if the Harlem Globetrotters were a real team, and if they had an academy where they indoctrinated children from their tween years until full adulthood to share possession of the ball with same dizzying speed of a pinball machine, and embarrass defenses as if they weren’t even there. That is the M.O. of Barcelona. They are taught to be humble, but their game is showy display of acrobat shots on goal, swarms on players who try to form an attack against them, and an artistic masterclass in backheel passes and showy flicks on the ball.
As individuals, this former group of academy youngsters grew to be superstars, each in their own right. For the past three years, when FIFA chose multiple nominees for the Ballon d’Or, the most prestigious award for individual brilliance, and every year the majority of players are on FC Barcelona. The winner for the past three has been the Argentine striker Lionel Messi, who is now considered by most to be the greatest ever, leaving giants like Pele and Maradonna in his petit wake like so many stupefied defenders who try in vain to defend him.
And yet, the mighty Barca couldn’t defeat Bayern. Given, for one game they were without Messi, but even still, there are a host of other world class players in purple and maroon, couldn’t Cesc Fabreagas, David Villa, or Iniesta step up? Moreover, Barca didn’t even find one single goal in two matches of the Champions League semi-final fixture against the German uberclub! Last year they lost at the hands of England’s Chelsea FC, who did not even make it to the top four in the English Premier League that year. ¡Aye aye aye!
On the flip side, this represents a huge surge for the German Bundesliga, not that the league needs it; they boast the highest average ticket sales in world. Still, the Germans sort of play second to the English, Spanish, and Italian Leagues, which boasted larger international recognition, and mightier league-leading team. Not this year, because at the other end of the Champions League semi-final, the German side Borussia Dortmund thoroughly thwarted Real Madrid (the perennial gazzilionaires and bitter rivals of Barcelona). Ergo, this year's cross-league championship match of all of Europe will be an exclusively Deustche affair.
Regardless of how history views this iteration of the Spanish giant, superlatives will still persist for Messi, who just recently stepped off an injury leave to score this screamer of a goal, to the commentary onslaught of Ray Hudson. Magisterial Lionel!