When Lionel Messi’s moment arrived, it was certainly spectacular.
The scene? Spanish Supercopa Final. How are we doing? Winning or losing is infinitely more finely balanced. Classic Messi territory.
In 753 Barcelona games, enough to make him the greatest player in history, it has always been Messi’s territory.
He scored his first league goal against Albacete in the 90th minute. From his extraordinary winning goal against Estudiantes almost 16 years ago, scored with the club crest on his chest in the 2009 World Cup final, to his 92nd minute winner for his country. He scored Barcelona’s 500th goal in the third minute of the Clasico Bernabéu to win 3-2 – believe me when I tell you it was Messi’s territory. The time of the Messiah.
This time though it wasn’t the goal that was spectacular, it was Messi’s right hook that Athletic Bilbao’s bearded striker and trumpeter, Asier Villalibre, made the scorer.
In terms of street fighting, it could have been described as a rabbit punch and when Messi saw the first red card of his Barcelona career, there is no doubt that referee Gil Manzano, although aided by a video replay, made the right decision. It is not suspected that Don Benito’s husband was a collector of souvenirs in Badajoz, in the southwest of Spain. The kind of judge who talks to himself: My good old son, that night I will go down in history as the first person to send Messi to a match in Barcelona. History is calling!
– Report: Messi sent Barca Bilbao into shock at Supercopa
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No, there is no doubt that Messi lost his temper for a reason, that he threw himself, punched himself and was ordered to stay in the locker room for a long time, alone and embarrassed (for only the fourth time in his career, that’s all).
Even the cast, the writers and the tense atmosphere in the jury room of Twelve Angry Men (Sir Alex Ferguson’s favourite film, in case you were wondering) had failed to convince Messi to give a verdict of innocence.
And furthermore, more credit should be given to Argentina.
It didn’t just have to be spectacular when he finally got his marching orders to Barca – there had to be a sense of presence when it happened.
Time was running out for the Supercopa final, which ultimately brought Athletic Club only its second major trophy in 37 years. As I said before, it was at that point that Messi got older and usually scored or scored a goal to make it 3-3 and take the final to penalty kicks.
But this season, of all seasons, it had to happen, right?
If Messi hadn’t had the wonderful patience to blow it up and return the favour, this would never have happened. Never.
Error! The file name is not specified. Sunday’s red card is the first Leo Messi has received in his time with Barca’s first team, 753 games into his career. David S. Bustamante/Footballers/Getty Images
From Ernesto Valverde’s sacking almost exactly a year ago, to Quique Cetion’s clownish circus of the Talentless Days, to Bayern Munich’s almighty walkout, to the tragic attempt to leave his beloved club, including Burofax and the tacit threat of legal action, to the weeks of mutual animosity between Messi and Ronald Koeman, which, like all big movie deals, suddenly turned into a veritable bromance. And the trophy was literally seconds away from making the best start to what could have been his last few months at Camp Nou, but it eluded him in the 90th minute. A minute passed suddenly… or else Messi would have got a red card?
Frankly, I’m asking you…
Still, it’s time to set up other parts of the case.
First: Judge Manzano, Don Benito’s husband, is attending this trial. No, I don’t dispute that. The red card was totally justified.
But he looked like a refugee from the Summer of Love of 1968, with flowers in his hair, round, slightly tinted John Lennon-style glasses, a guitar slung over his shoulder, and a Woodstock note coming out of the pocket of a leather vest decorated with feathers.
Manzano took the Hey man, it’s groovy approach, while the Athletic players disrupted the rhythm of Barcelona and Messi with a skillful approach that was not unusual, but completely illegal.
The mud, the blows, the tug of war, the travel, it all started very early with Iker Munyain, who committed at least three caution violations but never received a yellow card.
– Hunter: January will be the most important month in Barca’s history.
Peaceful love and happiness is Manzano’s attitude. Scalpel on the finger, eyebrow up or, on the chest, hey bro! You’re ruining the vibe, man!
It may have made Joni Mitchell’s lips twitch, but no one else did. The least intelligent, pre-programmed and superbly tuned sports equipment.
It wasn’t cruel, it wasn’t unusual, and (here’s the thing) Messi suffered for nearly 900 professional games.
But wait, there’s more. The real message, the fateful portrait of this little genius who let himself go, who let himself go, also told a story that Manzano might have wanted to contemplate.
The action takes place the moment Barcelona start their attack. You could, if you wrote the script, call it an ultimate and desperate attack. With the 2:1 in the ’90s. They are on the brink of defeat just seconds before the 42nd minute (against the Athletic Club, who frankly deserve this trophy for their absolutely exceptional determination, talent and courage).
Messi, who was out of form due to thigh problems in the semi-final, played well below his level, but the fact remains that he helped Antoine Griezmann win 1-0 and is dangerous enough that the Athletic systematically tries to hit, drop or trip him.
At the crucial moment, Messi sprayed a beautiful ball to the left and freed Jordi Alba – another signature moment.
Think of all the comments you’ve heard since 2012: Messi… in Alba, flying on the left wing… Alba recovers the ball, he goes back to the edge of the box and Messiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! Aim, aim, aim!
You remember her, don’t you? The same goes for Willibras.
Error! The file name is not specified. Lionel Messi stands just after the Athletic Villalibre Asier Bilbao clash. CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images
As Messi tries to escape after Alba’s back-pass, Villalibre (who is already suspended) notices the scenario.
It’s just an opinion, but I bet he remembers the tactical briefing the Athletic team gave in the days leading up to that game: DON’T LET THE MESSIAHS LOOSE ON ALBA AND SHRINK THEM AT ALL COSTS.
The striker, who would later charm the football world by celebrating the trophy with his teammates, blowing his trumpet and singing victory songs, tries to control Messi completely, knowing that if he is irregular, it would mean a red card for him and not for Messi.
Except this time Messi does what you, me or any normal person would have done many seasons ago – he lets frustration, disappointment and a burning sense of injustice take over and he takes it in stride.
– The Copa del Rey feed will air simultaneously on ESPN+ (US only).
He was wrong. It was a red card. Overall, the athletes deserved to win the final. These are all facts.
But when Manzano watches the video, he does half the work. He probably knows he drives a lot, he’s been told Messi gave a punch to an opponent and he’s walking with that punch in his head.
He watches the rebroadcast and completely ignores the fact that Villalibre’s action was completely illegal and that he needed to be sent down as well.
The Emblem of Judges Night, the Emblem of Athletics, we know how to get an extreme advantage.
The first time Messi got a red card in college football, it was total bullshit: Argentina against Hungary in August 2005.
The youngster, not yet a genius, not the 24-carat object he quickly became, was on the pitch for 90 seconds when Vilmos Wanchak first tried to hack at him, then nearly ripped off his jersey before Messi tried to free himself and was found ridiculously guilty by referee Marcus Merk of the foul that sent him into the penalty area.
I’d like to think that Merk buys chocolates and flowers from Messi every year on the anniversary to try and make up for it.
The other one? Copa America 2019 – Chile’s Gary Medel tries to give him two kicks to the head, Messi stands there, they go chest to chest and both get a red card from the Paraguayan referee – somewhere between the obvious Supercopa cut and the obvious comedy in that friendly against Hungary 15 years ago.
Medel is a player who always plays within the law and is provocative, but I didn’t think any of us deserved a red card, Messi said afterwards.
There have been other times when she waved. Remember the 2009 UEFA Super Cup final between FC Barcelona and Shakhtar?
He pressed his forehead well against Darijo Srna’s nose, but was pardoned by referee Frank De Blacker when he shouldn’t have.
Error! The file name is not specified. Messi will definitely miss two games, but that could double depending on how the Competition Commission classifies his sending off. Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP) (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)
Over the years, I remember several instances where Messi was also on the outside edge of the field. She’s no angel.
But from the first day I saw him, in Barcelona B in the autumn of 2003, until today, I have seen opponents beating him, shooting him, hitting him, attacking him, provoking him and trying to hurt him.
This was one of the first questions I asked him (in 2005): You get hit all the time, but you never answer. Are you made of industrial rubber?
He told me that he could feel pain and discomfort at the beginning of games, but once the game started, he was so desperate to get the ball and affect the outcome that he felt almost nothing.
But especially now he feels a sense of loss, a sense that other great successes may elude him, a sense that all good times are over, and no doubt a sense that the Father’s time is beginning to mow him down as dangerously as any other adversary.
So when Villalibre, who added his beard, Parks and Recreation’s Ron Swanson, his great equaliser in that dramatic finale and for deliberately dropping his magic trumpet into the hands of the Basques, I’m not surprised Messi eventually conceded.
Justice was not done because the judge kept letting the temperature boil, thanks to choosing the strength of the ink instead of the strength of the card, justice was not done because Villalibre did not get a second reservation.
But, Leo, old boy, justice has been served for your right whiplash.
It’s been a long time, I really don’t know how you’ve kept your cool until now. But you’re going to miss the next few games due to a suspension for violent conduct, you’ve earned it.
And now that it’s happened, if you thought they had provoked you before, look what happens now.