Lionel Messi’s priceless ambition

May 15th, 2009 - 2:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Alex Ferguson By Sebastian Fest
Madrid, May 15 (DPA) Alex Ferguson, Cristiano Ronaldo and the whole of Manchester United have one major reason to worry ahead of their Champions League final against Barcelona within two weeks: a man named Lionel Messi.

“Take Messi off, Guardiola take Messi off!” Barcelona fans shouted in the closing minutes of the 4-1 win against Athletic Bilbao late Wednesday.

The King’s Cup trophy had basically been won by that time and fans were thinking of the triple crown that Barcelona stands a chance to win this year. At 21, Messi is a key factor in that effort.

The Argentine had been kicked plenty of times during the game, and his work was finished by then. He scored his team’s second goal after escaping the temptation of shooting upon his first chance to do it. He played a part in Bojan Krkic’s later goal and then suffered a foul from which Xavi Hernandez netted the free kick.

Messi had already played his best and had even been booked for arguing with the referee.

Why continue to risk that a further kick could deprive the team of his services in the Champions League final? Coach Pep Guardiola did not give in to the fans’ request, mostly because Messi wanted to stay on the pitch.

“I heard they asked for the substitution, but they should stay very calm. I am fine and I could keep going ’til the end,” Messi explained early hours Thursday.

He finally knows what it means to win a final with Barcelona. Due to injury, he had missed the May 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal and the World Club Cup final months later against Internacional Porto Alegre. In the Spanish Supercup against Sevilla, he did play but Barca lost.

The feeling of winning a final cannot be taken away and it is an ideal ’starter’, something likely to help Messi, at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome May 27.

The Champions League final will provide a chance to see a direct duel between Messi and Ronaldo and, perhaps, to finally clear up who is the best player in the world.

Few people doubt that Messi is Barcelona’s best player. His teammates accept that he earns more than any of the others and that he enjoys special privileges when it comes to resting.

“For me, Leo never plays badly. Leo is different, these games are his games. It is him, him and him,” Guardiola said.

The coach - former Barca midfielder and captain and the brains behind a team that could become the most successful in the club’s history - particularly values Messi for his sheer football talent, even if it is clearly backed by concrete figures.

Messi has scored 37 goals this season. He is Barcelona’s top scorer, and he is five goals off Cristiano Ronaldo’s mark when he was awarded the European Golden Shoe last year.

Messi reached such figures not just because he is a precise shooter but also because he is able to follow play until it’s really over. He never just watches what happens when the ball is about the goal but always sees a chance that others overlook.

This year, there is no trace of the injuries that plagued his performance in earlier seasons and no one even dares to talk seriously about his alleged doubts during major games anymore.

In recent weeks, he played a great game against Venezuela in Diego Maradona’s debut as Argentina coach, he was the man in the resounding 6-2 game against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium, and he was the intense, thinking player who set up Andres Iniesta for the last-minute goal against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final.

Guardiola, who never improvises and always weighs his own words, has a very clear idea of what is happening: “For Barca, having a player like him is priceless. We have to look after him, pamper him and let him play.”

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