KARACHI: From what has ensued in the last two ‘Clasicos’ between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Barca’s most inspirational player has yet to find his feet against the Madrid side.
Jose Mourinho’s tactics have greatly neutralised the effect of Lionel Messi as the Argentine ace has failed to do something noteworthy for the Catalans except for scoring a penalty during their 1-1 draw in their La Liga fixture.
And it is something that would surely worry Barca coach Pep Guardiola.
Barcelona have failed to produce their usual verve and flair over the last two weeks and even though the team is packed with world-beaters, it is the little Argentine who they look up to for inspiration.
And as he so often does, Messi has failed to show up in the first two of their four Clasicos.
With the first-leg of their mouth-watering UEFA Champions League semifinal clash on Wednesday (today), the stage is set for Messi to produce a masterpiece against their arch-rivals.
The Santiago Bernabeu will be packed with the Madrid fans roaring with expectation following their Copa Del Rey success against Barcelona earlier this week and if Messi spoils the party in Spain’s capital, he would’ve done something that separates footballing greats from great footballers.
And he doesn’t have to look that far for inspiration.
On November 19, 2005, Ronaldinho single-handedly inspired the Catalan club to a 3-0 romp over Real Madrid in a performance that could not hold Real fans from giving the buck-toothed Brazilian a standing ovation.
The fact that I go back to that performance in many of my articles is because that blitz from Ronaldinho was a truly spectacular one. The way in which he broke the shackles to tear apart their arch-rivals cannot be repeated by any other player at present other than Messi.
In 2005, Messi had just broken into the Barcelona senior team while a Mexican midfield starlet Giovanni Dos Santos was homing his skills in the Barcelona’s famed youth academy — the La Masia.
And both were touted as Ronaldinho’s protégés.
While Dos Santos lost his way, it was Messi who stepped up to replace the Brazilian star when he left the club for AC Milan in 2008.
Now, its high time that Messi shows that he really has replaced his mentor with a performance that could be reminiscent to that of Ronaldinho on that night in the Spanish capital.
If he fails to do so, Mourinho has the ability to do exactly what he did with Inter Milan at this very stage of the competition last year.
When Barcelona travelled to the San Siro in the first-leg, Barcelona were caught completely off-guard when Inter came at them with a bang. Barcelona lost their shape completely and Inter profited; winning the match 3-1 and advanced to the final 3-2 on aggregate after stifling Barcelona away in a 1-0 defeat at the Nou Camp.
Karachi goes crazy about Champions League Clasico
The last time the two sides met in the Champions League was exactly nine years ago; and at the same stage of European football’s premier competition.
Real Madrid triumphed 3-1 over the two-legged affair in matches that were titled as the ‘duel of the century’ by the Spanish press.
A global television audience of around 500 million people viewed that match and this time around, that figure might as well get doubled. I was one of those who had watched those two clashes and saying that they were high-voltage affairs would be an understatement.
And with football becoming such a global sport and the Champions League’s worldwide appeal having increased manifold since then, Pakistan too has got to grips with it.
Real Madrid and Barcelona are two clubs that enjoy great support here in the city and many football fans here in the city are looking forward to the clash of the Spanish heavyweights.
While Barca fans are on the borderline of optimism, Real supporters are eagerly looking forward to the clash.
“Barcelona’s spirits are low at this time so I reckon that a draw would be a good result,” says Absar Taqvi, a blogger.
For Real Madrid fans, meanwhile, Mourinho is the trump card.
“Mourinho is the greatest manager in the world,” says Ali Humayun, an engineering graduate. “Real will definitely win!”