sport news PETER CROUCH: Watching Lionel Messi live is a must for your bucket list

Peter Crouch is a columnist for Sportsmail

Peter Crouch is a columnist for Sportsmail

Sitting at home on Wednesday night, watching the Champions League semi-final, it took me a couple of seconds to process what happened.

I never like to see Liverpool lose but when Lionel Messi scored his second goal — that free-kick you could watch again and again and again — I had to get to my feet. It wasn’t to celebrate, it was simply to acknowledge his genius.

There will come a point when I am able to tell my grandchildren that I shared a pitch with Messi. It might only amount to two minutes — 60 seconds, home and away, in a Champions League last-16 tie in 2007 — but it is in the record books. 

I will tell them repeatedly because he is the greatest footballer of all time. You try to think of new ways to talk about what he does and the best I can come up with is that he is a living monument; a footballer whom everyone should try to go to see at least once in their lives.

If you have the chance to watch Lionel Messi live then you have to do it

If you have the chance to watch Lionel Messi live then you have to do it

Of course, people will have their own views on what defines the greatest. There will be a group that insists the title belongs to Pele. Others will choose Diego Maradona, for what he did with Argentina in the 1986 World Cup and Napoli during his time in Serie A.

You cannot forget Cristiano Ronaldo, either. He has become the ultimate goalscorer. His speed and power have enabled him to set records and change the way centre forwards operate. I love Ronaldo and think he is out of this world.

But he is not Messi. It is not a slight on Ronaldo, it is just Messi has this natural gift that has enabled him to play football in a way that nobody else has ever done. Put it this way: if he dropped back down the pitch, he would become the best midfielder of all time. His passing is extraordinary.

Messi is the greatest player of all time - his awareness is like nothing I have ever seen

Messi is the greatest player of all time - his awareness is like nothing I have ever seen

The funny thing is, Liverpool actually handled him well for long parts of the game but there was a point during the match when I heard the commentary team say he had been ‘quiet’ and I knew, there and then, that it wouldn’t remain that way.

It’s the little things he does. You see him floating and lurking in these pockets of space and then, suddenly, he will get the ball and start weaving his magic and spreading panic. The touch, the movement, the awareness are like nothing I have ever seen.

Then there are the numbers — 10 league titles in Spain is ridiculous and there could be a fifth European Cup at the start of next month. If a club could boast such a list of honours, you would class them as being one of the all-time greats. Messi has rattled that up in 14 years.

The dark edge that Messi has to his game has helped him to become so successful

The dark edge that Messi has to his game has helped him to become so successful

In that spell, he has scored 600 goals. 600! He is treating the Champions League and La Liga in the same way I used to score in the Hayes and District Under-10 league.The level of football is so high now but his consistency has never faltered.

What I also like, too, is the dark edge to his game. He knows how to manipulate situations and exploit referees. He did it against Liverpool, when he won that free-kick, jumping into the back of Fabinho after his run had been blocked.

He would not have reached the top without ruthlessness. But he is out on his own because of the fantasy he can bring to a game. I have no doubt I will go and watch him in the flesh once more before his career ends. If the opportunity comes up, I suggest you do the same.

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