I’d be pretty sure that bookmakers across the UK took an absolute hammering at the weekend.
Sorry if you are, or are related to, a turf-accountant and the gold-plated Rolls Royce is being sold this week because last Saturday night is now known as Black Saturday.
Not only did we all know that when Barcelona scored just once more it would be their 6,000th La Liga goal … we all absolutely knew that it HAD to be Leo Messi who would tuck it away.
I’ll wager that more than a few had money on “Messi first scorer”.
No question. He’s a genius, he scored their 5,000th goal nine years ago and it was simply unthinkable that anyone else would create this amazing landmark. (NB, just in case you’re wondering, Messi has either scored or made 476 of those 1,000 goals since the defeat of Racing Santander in 2009).
His free kicks are legendary. Last season he hit an all-time high for converting them and, largely, he’ll thrash the ball into the postage stamp between post and crossbar.
Thus the players in the wall jump. Of course they do. Anything to try to deflect his free-kick over. So … every so often he cheekily slots a daisy cutter under their collective leap and, really, it’s quite impossible to stop.
It’s a part of his game that I love. But it’s not often spoken about.
What I mean is that long ago, in the first interview he gave me, Autumn 2006, Messi made it clear to me that his enjoyment of football doesn’t extend to watching much (in fact any) of it when he’s off duty.
You won’t catch him, unlike Xavi for example, watching Serie B, Stoke trying to get out of the Championship or Aberdeen at Hibs in the League Cup.
However, Messi does think about the game. Particularly about penalties and free kicks.
He’ll plan, he’ll remember particularly keepers, what he did to them last time, he’ll stack up information in that massively rapid circuit board in his brain – he calculates. Last season, in Spring, he scored four free-kicks in a six-game spree.
And he did the same to Girona, the sneaky daisy-cutter, as he pulled off at the weekend to break Alavés’ resistance.
What I like most about it is the feeling that it’s, momentarily, like a high-stakes poker game, world title chess or that cool pub game, spoof. Most of the time this wonderful footballer uses technique, power … shock and awe … to beat opponents.
But every so often, when they think they’ve worked out what he’s going to do, he out- psyches them. Whenever he pulls off that “under the wall” trick I’m telling you that there’s an extra, impish smile on his face as he celebrates.
His other goal last weekend was brilliance personified. He hit the woodwork twice, he struck a free-kick off the bar last week in the Spanish Supercup against Sevilla which Gerard Piqué then converted – Messi is switched on. No question. Because Cristiano Ronaldo has left? Because Messi’s been made captain? No … it’s just what he does.
“Genius” we legitimately call it, but what I also see is a guy who simply enjoys his massive talents to the maximum and for whom football has never ceased to be the all-time best legal high.