The S – Word


God lives in Catalonia

“Mega -Messi”, “Messi Masterclass”, “The Messiah”, “God lives in Catalonia!”

…are just some of the headlines that followed Barcelona’s 4-1 demolition of Arsenal last Tuesday – a crushing defeat that was orchestrated to perfection by one man, Lionel Messi. The Argentine scored all four goals at the Nou Camp, with a hat-trick in the first half. His goals, exquisite ones at that, gave the Catalan side a 6-3 aggregate win and a passage to a Champions League semi-final against Inter Milan.

Even I, here in my Pacific paradise, couldn’t miss the recent rhetoric about Messi and I was tempted to write about the FIFA World Player of the Year last month, following Barca’s 4-2 win against Real Zaragoza. Messi bagged another three in this game, becoming Barca’s first ever player to score consecutive hat tricks in La Liga, their previous outing being a 3-0 win against Valencia.

Leo has already won the Champions League trophy twice, he’s also got three La Liga titles to his name, a UEFA Super Cup, A FIFA Club World Cup and three Spanish Supercups. He is Maradona’s “successor” – words lauded by Diego himself, he won last season’s Ballon d’Or and he beat Cristiano Ronaldo to the title of World’s best player while he was at it. Oh, did I mention that he’s Barcelona’s all-time top scorer in the Champions League? Not bad. It’s hard to believe he is still only 22…  

And just in case the Zaragoza goals didn’t have you drooling into your keyboard enough, here’s Leo’s in action against Arsenal:

A class act, I think you’ll agree. As far as week’s go, I’d wager that perhaps it was one of Leo’s best. Even the staunch anti-Barcelona/pro-Real Madrid newspaper ‘Marca’ praised the diminutive number 10 for his footwork against Arsenal. Could his week get any better? It could and it did. Pep Guardiola’s men rounded off a superb week with a 2-0 win in ‘El Classico’ against Real Madrid. Messi overshadowed Ronaldo, he scored is 40th goal of the season and, with Barca’s second goal from Pedro Rodriguez, his team went three points clear at the top of La Liga. Marca, not surprisingly, weren’t too effusive with their praise this time…

There are some number 10’s who have always been special, who will always captivate the public and who will never be forgotten. The likes of Pele, Platini, Puskas, Maradona and Eusebio, to name but a few. For me, it’s really interesting to witness the ascent of Leo Messi, as he’s one of the few current players who could rank alongside the greatest number 10’s of all time. Perhaps, to some, he already does. If he takes Argentina to a World Cup final win this summer, then he’ll certainly be up there and the comparisons to Maradona will ring truer than ever. But for Barcelona fans I’m sure they couldn’t care less – as their shy, 5ft 7, Argentine number 10 is already the best in the world. God, as they are saying, already lives in Catalonia.

Mahalo for reading!

As a side note you may wonder why Manchester United’s game against Bayern Munich hasn’t had a mention. I think that the less said about that one, the better. Ahem…

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Still Special – Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge
March 17, 2010, 7:21 pm
Filed under: Champions League | Tags: , , ,

Jose Mourinho was on familiar ground when he made his return to Stamford Bridge this week – to a key clash between two European sides in the Champions League, to an eager press pack – full of expectation and hungry for the kind of soundbites that only he can deliver, and also to tabloid tales of Chelsea defender Ashley Cole’s most recent philanderings. Nothing new there then.

When Internazionale were drawn against Chelsea in the last 16 of this season’s Champions League, it was a fixture that couldn’t have been more beautifully scripted. Mourinho, a god in the eyes of the Blues’ supporters, was to return to Stamford Bridge. However, it wasn’t to be the return that fans of the club have dreamed about and yearned for since he was ousted in 2007. No, he was to return as manager of the Nerazzurri.

Inter have been knocked out of the Champions League at this stage for the last two seasons running, at the hands of both Liverpool and Manchester United, so this year the need to get past the last 16 and past English opposition must have been stronger than ever, especially with Mourinho facing up to his old employers.

Add to that the fact that Chelsea’s newest manager is the former AC Milan boss Carlo Ancelotti – he who presided over the Rossoneri for eight years and won two Champions League titles in his time with Inter’s biggest rivals – and you have an intriguing sub-plot to a game that is already sparkling with promise.

Okay, I have to admit at this stage that I am guilty of being a little bit in awe of Mourinho. Either that or a little bit in love with him. I know plenty of heterosexual males in the United Kingdom who would admit the same thing. What is it about him? His Clooney-esque good looks. his brooding temperament, his success?! I don’t know exactly but Mourinho was a breath of fresh air when he arrived in the Premier League in 2004. He was funny, he was charming, he was mischevious and most importantly he was a fantastic manager. I hate to admit it but Chelsea were outstanding when he was in charge. Likeable no, impressive yes.

The self-styled Special One.

And oh how we missed him when he left England, especially us football journalists – nothing was the same, no Jose-quips to look forward to in press conferences and Match of the Day, no exciting quotes to look forward to in the dailies, just more weary cliches from Premier League managers or their right-hand men. I think I can speak for almost every football fan at that time when I say there was a real sense of mourning when Mourinho departed. Love him or hate him, you missed him.

For those of you who may not already know what set Jose Mourinho apart from the rest, watch this Ahem, sorry about the music… 

Back to the Champions League. When Inter travelled to England for Tuesday’s game, they came with a 2-1 lead from the first leg at San Siro but progress to the next round was going to be far from easy. Chelsea, of course, had not been beaten at home in the Champions League for 21 games and have history of doing well against Italian teams at this stage in recent seasons.

But, in Mourinho’s words, his return was ‘almost perfect’. Thanks to Samuel Eto’o’s second-half strike, Inter ran out as victors with a 3-1 aggregate victory. Didier Drogba was also given his marching orders in the closing minutes of the tie. Pleased? Moi? Just a bit.

“I love Chelsea, I love this stadium, I love these people but I am a professional,” said Mourinho.

“I celebrated a lot in the dressing room when the game was over. It was a big victory for my team.”

It was almost like going back in time, we got to see Mourinho, we got to hear Mourinho and, just like old times, he celebrated a win at Stamford Bridge. Perhaps it’s easy to admire him when he’s not in charge of Manchester United’s Premier League opposition but it’s clear to me that Jose is still special and he’s still very much missed.

Thanks for reading!