Leo Saga Is All A Bit Messi! (Part 1)
In a 2-part piece, we look into ‘Messigate’ and what actually happened. First up though, Affside Refs! fondness with little Lionel Messi.
Let me tell you a little tale about how I discovered Lionel Messi.
Well, when I say discovered, I was one of 98,000 punters lucky enough to be in Barcelona one magical night in August.
It was the Summer of 2005, and I found myself working in an Irish pub in the small Spanish coastal town of Salou, about an hour outside of Barcelona.
Towards the end of the summer season, a few pals and I bought tickets to go visit the Camp Nou (or is it Nou Camp?) and attend what is known in the Catalonian capital as the Gamper Trophy. This annual pre-season fixture sees footballing giants FC Barcelona invite one of Europe’s big guns (in our case, Juventus) to compete at the famous old ground in a glamour tie.
At 10pm the stadium plunged into darkness to herald the heroes on to the park, with just a single spotlight illuminating each player entering individually. First came captain Puyol. The locals roared. This was an all-conquering pitbull of a player, his wild mane of an afro bouncing in the light summers breeze. Next up the star man Ronaldinho. He was the flair. The charisma. The unapologetic maestro who once got a standing ovation from the Bernabeu crowd, home of bitter rivals Real Madrid, from whom Barca had just wrestled the La Liga title. It was their first league title in six years. The locals were savouring their moment of triumph.
The procession continued with various levels of noise coming from the crowd in reaction to each player. It was easy to tell who was favoured more than others. But then came a young man who’s name I did not recognise, but was sure to never forget.
‘Lionel Messssssssssiiiiiiiiii’ the Spanish MC roared, and this wee guy, slender and light, as if a strong wind would blow him over, sauntered in to view. This unleashed the loudest roar of the night!
I was bemused. Who is this? Lionel who? What’s going on? What did the locals know that I didn’t?
A performance to remember
The lad was mesmerising. It was truly delicious to watch. The ball was stuck to his feet. It was and still is the greatest individual performance I have had the fortune of witnessing on a football field. He was 17 years old.
Anyone who was there that night would agree – we had just witnessed the arrival of the little Argentinian genius.
And it’s this memory I have, this cherished moment that I own, that makes the last few weeks more than just a little bit sad.
Since THAT Bayern Munich drubbing, it’s all gone to pot.
How did something that began so well, with so much success and joy, turn so sour and bitter over the last month? What actually happened with the board and Messi’s release clause?
In the next part, we’ll look at how the events unfolded and where Messi and Barcelona go from here.