Football FanCast columnist Rob Swan looks at the Barcelona star that could well stand in the way of Manchester United and a 2nd Champions League success.
News that Barcelona's Argentine genius Lionel Messi will be fit to face Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final in a fortnights time is one which leaves me with conflicting emotions. Firstly, the fear that the 20-year-old is one player capable of preventing Ferguson from winning that all important second European Cup and secondly, the excitement at the opportunity in seeing the most talented footballer in the world playing at Old Trafford for the first time.
Despite the whole world and his wife in mutual agreement that on current form Cristiano Ronaldo is the best player on the planet, Messi before his injury was simply irrepressible. His unmatched ability and willingness to take on and beat any defender after defender was football at a level I'd never previously seen before. Although Ronaldo is also blessed with incredible ability, pace, skill and vision as well as being better equipped with the hustle and bustle of the Premiership, there's no substitute for the pure unadulterated joy of seeing a player embark on a successful mazy run with directness, determination and sheer craft. And the diminutive Messi is better than Ronaldo at doing just that.
From his wonder goal against Getafe in last season's Copa del Rey, leading to headlines in Spain of 'Messidonna' – in reference to Diego Maradona's legendary second goal against England in the 1986 World Cup finals – to his dramatic last minute equaliser against Real Madrid last season to secure Barcelona a 3-3 draw, his hat trick and the match ball; Messi appears to be one of a kind. The one player who is guaranteed to go on and make his name as a legend of the game, providing of course, he stays injury free.
At 5' 6" tall, Messi has grown to a relatively average height compared to what he would have done if it wasn't for the growth hormone treatment he received when he first joined Barcelona. However, it has now led to fears that the treatment he received as a youngster could have implications on Messi's ability to avoid injury as an adult. In his first three years as a Barcelona regular, the 20-year-old has been blighted by injury during every season.
This year has been no different after suffering several niggly injuries including a thigh muscle tear against Celtic in the Champions League last month. Those who remember last season will recall Messi's largely ineffective display at Anfield, where he'd been rushed back from another injury, which kept him on the sidelines for several months. It would be a tragic loss of talent if the Barca winger continued on throughout his career constantly picking up knocks and tears, preventing him from being where he belongs, out on the hallowed green turfs of stadia fit for kings of the game such as the Nou Camp, delighting paying audiences with his artistry on the pitch.
They say you can't keep a good man down though, and despite my allegiances to Manchester United and my obvious desire to want to see us overcome Barcelona and reach the final in Moscow next month, another part of me wants to see the little genius perform to his full potential, and if this happens, it's very unlikely that we'll be there in Russia to face Chelsea or Liverpool on May 21.
With Ronaldinho out of contention, the onus will fall on the young Argentine to spearhead Barca's attacking assault against the likes of Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra. On the night of the match, I will be fired up to support my club, but there will be a quiet part of me that will want to witness the immense ability of the player who has earned the right to be known as the most exciting player in world football.
Would 4-3 United and a Messi hat-trick be too much to ask? When was the last time football was ever that kind?