After returning to top form in the 2014-15 season, for which he claimed his fifth FIFA Ballon d’Or last month, Lionel — the lionheart — Messi mesmerised Barcelona fans and the football-watching public across the world on Sunday with a display of large-heartedness paired with an outrageous trick in the box. On 299 La Liga goals, what could possibly keep Messi from putting the ball in the net from a penalty, apart from the goalie or a miss? The answer appears to be, consideration for his colleague and, more importantly, the second cog of the MSN machine — the biting and brilliant Luis Suarez, who was on the verge of a hat-trick against Celta Vigo. Thus, Messi played the ball forward from his penalty kick to an onrushing Suarez, who finished the job.
While this circus trick or audacity of skill has eminent pedigree in “Flying Dutchman” Johan Cruyff’s 1982 execution of something similar with Jesper Olsen against Ajax, it will not pass without debate. Barça coach Luís Enrique has made the moral case bluntly: “It’s a legal play, some will like it, some won’t.” The rule is quite simple: Kick the ball forward (which Messi did) and don’t play it again till it’s touched by another player (Messi didn’t need to). Barça, of course, is no ordinary team and quite like Cruyff’s “Total Football”, it has redefined how football is played and how it looks. It has an extraordinary set of players whose brilliance hasn’t faded even through a slow generational switch.
But since Barça puts a premium on fun, here’s an interesting backstory: Apparently, the ball was meant not for Suarez but for Neymar, the third clog of MSN, who claims to have practised this particular play with Messi. And yet, Barça captain Andrés Iniesta claims never to have seen the duo do any such thing in training. Perhaps it was trademark Barça creativity and spontaneity then?