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BRILLIANT BARCELONA HAVE RAISED THE BAR AND MAGICAL MESSI IS ALREADY ARGUABLY THE GREATEST PLAYER OF ALL TIME

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Messi mesmerised United when he made it 2-1 before David Villa added the third

Messi mesmerised United when he made it 2-1 before David Villa added the third

BY JOHN GUBBA

If there was any doubt before Barcelona’s intoxicating Champions League Final triumph over Manchester United, surely there is no argument now. Barcelona boast the best football team in the world – and their talisman Lionel Messi is the best player on the planet.

Still only 23, Messi is the already arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen.

Before the Argentinian adopted son of Catalonia came on the scene Pele and Maradona were the undisputed masters of The Beautiful Game. Now the pint-sized genius – around whom Barcelona have built probably the greatest football team ever assembled – is staking his claim to be the No.1

It is frightening to think just how great the magical Messi can become when you consider that footballers rarely hit their peak before they reach their 27th birthday. In a world increasingly dominated by giants it is reassuring and refreshing to see that small can be beautiful. At 5 ft 61⁄2 in Messi is dwarfed by Cristiano Ronaldo at 6ft 1. But Messi stands tall as the undisputed king of football.

20th century greats Pele and Maradona

20th century greats Pele and Maradona

Manchester United entered the record books and became English football’s most successful side by winning their 19th League title, finishing a runaway nine points clear of Chelsea and Manchester City at the top of the Premier League. In the Champions League Sir Alex Ferguson’s men hadn’t even conceded a goal away from Old Trafford until Barca’s crushing 3-1 win in the Final.

But Barca were simply too good for United at Wembley – repeating their win two years earlier in the 2009 Final – and showed the rest of the world why they are simply the best. There is absolutely no disgrace, only pride for the cream of Manchester, who can rightly calm to be the second best team on the planet after reaching their third Champions League Final in four years. And yet the gulf between the top two has never been bigger. Wayne Rooney gave United short-lived hope with an outstanding strike that levelled Pedero’s equally brilliant opener. But Messi with a long-range effort and David Villa with an exquisite finish blew the English champions away in the second half with football from another planet.

United’s beaten boss Ferguson honestly summed it up when he said: “In my time as a manager it is the best team we have faced. I think everyone acknowledges that. I accept that. It’s not easy when you have been well beaten like that to think any other way.

A global TV audience of up to 400 million viewers were treated to a spectacular exhibtion of The Beautiful Game at Wembley

A global TV audience of up to 400 million viewers were treated to a spectacular exhibtion of The Beautiful Game at Wembley

“No one has given us a hiding like that. It’s a great moment for them. They deserve it because they play the right way and they enjoy their football.

“They mesmerise you with their passing and we never really controlled Messi. When we got the lifeline of Wayne Rooney I expected us to do better in the second half but it wasn’t to be.”

Barcelona have set the bar at a new level of excellence and it will take much more than money for any club to match their brilliance because the Catalans have mastered a new way of playing the game and they have created a team, the nucleus of which has grown up together playing their own brand of carousel football.

Barca embarked on a long term plan that has taken a nearly a decade to evolve when they persuaded Messi to commit his career to their dream for fantasy football.  Andres Iniesta and Xavi are the other mini maestros who complete the most devastating trio that is the heartbeat of this majestic side. But this is a team where every player has an important role and they are all 100  per cent comfortable with playing their stylish brand of total football.

Whether or not Barcelona have hit their peak remains to be seen. This was not a heavyweight showdown that hung in the balance beyond the first half because Pep Guardiola’s men were untouchable in the final 45 minutes. All their star men hit the top of their form in a breathtaking display that was as close to perfection as you will ever see.

Maybe this was the best Barca will ever play. God help us all if they are to raise the bar any higher.  

Barcelona the undisputed champions celebrate their fourth European Cup triumph in 2011

Barcelona the undisputed champions celebrate their fourth European Cup triumph in 2011

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