Graham Hunter: Don’t mess with Messi or risk the wrath of his steely genius on pitch

Barcelona's Lionel Messi
Barcelona's Lionel Messi

While I’m not one of life’s great worriers, Leo Messi troubles me.

He really does.

This magical wee man makes me ask myself: “What are my responsibilities to our north-east readers?”

A column like this should deliver things which I know or experience because I live over here in Spain and you live in or near the Granite City.

Traditionally that’s a columnist’s role whether in Brussels covering the EU, the Vatican City garnering news of the Pontiff’s darts team or in Washington monitoring Trump’s monstrous nonsense.

So bringing you even more Planet Messi news theoretically makes perfect sense.

My nagging worry is that perhaps you’ve heard enough about the Rosario Rocket, that spending more time sketching the development of Rayo Vallecano’s 4-4-2 structure or the work of the Scottish groundsman at Eibar would be appropriate?

But the damn awkward point, you see, is that Messi just keeps producing the most remarkable explosions of character, wit, invention, skill and goalscoring while putting enemies to the sword.

Sadly for Pittodrie-goers who yearn for Fergie’s glory days with the Dandies, it was Sir Alex’s team who were the sacrificial lambs this week.

Seven days earlier Chris Smalling had, Rougvie-style, calculatingly crashed his torso right into Messi’s head while Barcelona’s No10 was preparing to play the ball.

A brutal foul for which Smalling should have been red-carded. That simple.

All Messi’s team-mates, however, have one basic rule for training ground matches: “DON’T make Messi angry!”

Smalling, apparently, didn’t know or didn’t believe.

After United had pressed Barça all over the Camp Nou on Tuesday night, wreaking havoc for all of nine glorious minutes, Ivan Rakitic and Messi suddenly robbed Ashley Young down on the touchline.

A split second later Messi won the loose ball, sprinted past Young, nutmegged Fred, left Phil Jones and Smalling mewing for their mothers, and buried the ball deep into the far corner of David De Gea’s goal.

It was the precursor to a majestic night. Messi was literally astonishing.

Another goal, participation in Barcelona’s third, an array of jinks which twisted Jones’ spine into the shape of a corkscrew and Barcelona were in their first semi-final for four years.

Thus I felt compelled to write about Lionel Andres Messi once again.

Firstly, Barcelona, as a team, are playing resolutely, with purpose and effort, but the magic belongs to Messi.

Secondly, he promised, last summer, that every ounce of his brilliance would be directed towards winning the Champions League.

Pair talent with attitude and great things happen.

Finally – his mentality.

Interviewed on the pitch immediately after the whistle Messi spoke with brutal clarity.

He said: “We can’t perform like this again in the Champions League unless we want another experience like Rome (4-1 up but out on aggregate) because eight or nine bad minutes in the Champions League and you’re out.”

No celebrations, no taunting Smalling, no time for false humility. Remorseless hunger and unrestrained frustration that his team-mates almost let him down. He’s a force of nature this guy.