Final of the superstars

2011-05-28 00:00

ANY footballer will tell you that a Champions League final is as big as it gets and tonight’s promises to be colossal. There will be battles fought between some of the game’s great players all over the Wembley pitch and Manchester United will have their hands full if they are to forget the embarrassment they endured in the final of 2009 when Barcelona made them look like a pub side.

No final is complete without its superstars and while United boast the raw talent of talisman Wayne Rooney, Barcelona have arguably the best player in the world at their disposal in the majestic Lionel Messi, who has scored 52 goals in 54 games this season.

It certainly is a mouth-watering battle and one can’t help but think that, regardless of who tonight’s winner is, either Messi or Rooney will have a say in the outcome.

Labelling a player as the best in the world is never an easy thing to do. Players have different qualities. How does one compare a striker to a defender? Is the fact that the striker scores and assists more goals reason enough to declare him a better player than the defender who keeps a clean sheet week in and week out? Somebody once told me that the only way to solve the puzzle is to imagine a side made up of 10 of the same player (goalkeeper not included). Explained another way, would you rather field a side made up of 10 Lionel Messis or 10 Wayne Rooneys? The answer will reveal the better player. Team Rooney’s strength in the match up would surely be its defensive capabilities, strength and willingness to run back tirelessly. And they wouldn’t be too bad going forward, either.

Logic tells us, though, that Team Messi would simply be unstoppable. Managers around the world can’t contain one of him, never mind 10. I would imagine that, regardless of Team Messi’s opposition, loads of goals would be scored and the possession stats would be rather one-sided. Judging by this rule of thumb, one would do well to find a player who would be able to contain Team Messi. What about Team Vidic vs Team Messi? The Serbians wouldn’t smell a goal, but how many would the Argentineans manage to score? My guess is a good two or three, at the very least.

Fortunately for Sir Alex Ferguson, there is only one Lionel Messi. The problem is that half of Pep Guardiola’s side forms the core of the Spanish side that won the World Cup less than a year ago. It is easy to see why Barcelona is regarded as the best side in the world when one looks at the players at the club.

United will know that Rooney is a man for the big occasion, though, and they will be looking to him to provide a Manchester City-like moment tonight. It might just take something that special to beat a phenomenally gifted Barca side.

I don’t envy Ferguson. How do you contain a player like Messi? My suggestion would be to play Scholes and tell him to kick the stuffing out of the little genius (in the most legal way possible, of course). But a red card for the United veteran is a more realistic outcome than a contained Messi.

The stage is set and the superstars are ready. The star-power of both sides means that the only certainty is that someone will feel like they could have done more come the end of the game. Anything can happen on days like this and the match is, after all, being played at the home of English football. Super Wayne will at least be consoled by the fact that, should he and his team-mates lose, there will be a familiar watering hole nearby where they can all go get a bit Messi.

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