By Jennifer Juneau

In the football world, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has been hailed time and time again as “The best player on the planet.”

After the first leg of the Champions League semi-final match against Real Madrid on the evening of April 27, which the Daily Mail refers to as “Hell Clasico,” headlines and news articles have been flooded with glory for the Argentine’s ball handling ability.

Among many Messi applauders, notably Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, whose managerial skills have recently been put under a microscope, had words to say such as “Messi has a desire to play” and “happiness to help the team.”  This was supposed to mean something unique, as if Messi was the first football player to commit himself to the position he was hired for.

During halftime analysis, RTE’s commentator Liam Brady compared Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo stating that Messi was the better sportsman, he never dives and he works hard for the team.

Shouldn’t we expect this from any world class player?  We are to sing praises because he has a desire to play and is happy to help his team?  It’s as if it is routine for a footballer to walk out on the pitch during a semi-final match in one of the most celebrated trophies in football (both sides must have done something right to get that far in the first place) and simply laze around and not do their jobs when they are paid zillions of Euros to do so.

As those praises reverberated in every sports column and television broadcast they became vacant.  I believe fans and critics are more in awe of the idea of Lionel Messi than the player himself.  I have nothing against Lionel Messi or the brilliance of his ball handling skill and goal scoring record but pardon me while I make a revision that has really nothing to do with him: Lionel Messi is the most overrated player on the planet.

And just as we sit comfortably with the idea that the sports experts confirm what we are supposed to feel by telling us that what we see is remarkable, we have no time to enjoy it because Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho comes along and steals the headlines right out from under Messi’s newsworthy moment, pilfering the attention he deserved for scoring two goals to give Barcalona the lead in the first of two legs.

Now, not only is there news that Barcelona are ahead with two away goals to bring back to Camp Nou (which should have been the focus of a competitive match to begin with) there are board meetings to deal with, complaints to be made and punishments to be divvied out.  Like parents having to handle two children in a brawl, there was name calling too.  There are people who are “disgusted” and there are people who should feel “ashamed.”

Messi’s gravity was swiped from beneath him, as if Mourinho came onto the pitch himself and committed a foul.

With an outpour of outrage in the press, the object here is for us to hate Mourinho as much as we’re supposed to feel sorry for Messi.  Apparently temper tantrums thrown by coaches rival successful players in a big way and make a better read.  One would surmise that the whole El Clasico build-up and tirade scenes were staged.

If someone is to blame (because someone always has to be held responsible for such antics in a civilized world) for throwing a wrench into the beautiful game (depending on what you choose to talk about) look to management.

Others will claim it’s the ref’s fault for sending off Pepe.  Perhaps it was the missile-happy Real fans who sullied the match.  Or maybe Barcelona’s benched goalkeeper Pinto had something to do with it.

Yet, hypocritically, we’ve been warned by the media that days before the semi-final viewers were in for an explosion between the La Liga rivals.  And if someone were to come out of it a model hero, it would be in the form of either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo (don’t forget among the hype neither hero scored in November 2010’s El Clasico.)

But what has emerged was a monstrosity to knock both heroes (and in this case one martyr in the form of Ronaldo who spent his time on the pitch looking for support from his invisible teammates) off their pedestals.

And seemingly it wasn’t just about winning a cup, it was about a country’s particular cultural history that divided the sides and was to add fire to the pitch.

But the heat was in the room before the fire even started when Mourinho attacked Guardiola in a press conference in which Guardiola responded to the assault by using the F-word.

So what did the press mean by a clash if they were to play clean and rhythmic football?  Weren’t they (and we) secretly hoping the pitch would be littered with yellow and red cards, so that we could say, Did you see that?  Did you?  Then slap some wrists and say, Play nice!

In other words, passion is what makes a competition worth watching and for little over ninety-minutes we were transfixed into another world without an emergency exit in the shape of the San Bernabeu.

But no matter how large a stadium there was no room for a boring perfection in which time would move in a slow-passing tedium.  More importantly, we wouldn’t have much of a story.

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