On May 6th, 2015, Lionel Messi scored one of the greatest goals of his glittering career – and with it launched a thousand memes that Jerome Boateng will never live down.
That one moment lives long in the memory, capping off one of the most fascinating, scintillating games in Champions League history.
The first leg of the semi-final at the Camp Nou treated us to a level of football we’d seldom seen before.
We had Barcelona in arguably their most lethal form, lining up with an era-defining front three that collectively registered 122 goals and 66 assists in all competitions.
Then there were Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. The Catalan coach was into his second season in Bavaria and had well and truly integrated his staggeringly sophisticated possession game – he might not have enjoyed European success there, but some consider the football his Bayern side produced to be the best ever seen in the Bundesliga, underlined by their mammoth numbers across three successive title-winning seasons.
Not only was it two truly great sides – surely the best in Europe at the time – but it was a fascinating tactical battle as Guardiola returned to his old ground setting up Bayern with a Bielsa-esque man-marking system that was ludicrously audacious.
“Pep Guardiola is probably the only coach in world football who would do this away at the Nou Camp. I can’t think of any other coach who would employ these tactics,” Gary Neville responded from the commentary box.
“Three v three against Messi, Neymar and Suarez! Everyone else would be thinking how do we double-up on them, protect, screen. Not him.”
Luis Enrique’s side exploited the system time and again, breaking through and creating a number of opportunities that could’ve killed the tie there and then.
“Barca’s front three must feel like kids in a sweet shop,” a perplexed Neville continued. Guardiola could see the system wasn’t working and conceded defeat after 20 minutes, switching back to a more conventional back four and binning off the man-to-man approach.
From there the game developed into a breathless, more balanced affair in which both sides attacked with abandon and spurned chances to open the scoring. It could have gone either way but – incredibly, somehow – stayed scoreless for 77 minutes.
Messi fired home the opening goal from the edge of the box after Dani Alves won the ball back deep into Bayern territory and swiftly fed Barcelona’s talisman. It was a textbook Messi finish and gave Luis Enrique’s side the advantage they craved. From there, the hosts smelled blood.
A couple of minutes later, Messi doubled Barcelona’s lead, twisting one way and another to send Boateng into oblivion before a perfect chipped finish into the back of the net.
Guardiola had switched his tactics by this point but this was the perfect illustration of how brace/suicidal – delete as applicable – it was to try go one-on-one against Barcelona’s No.10.
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 6, 2022
It’s testament to the quality of the goal that overshadowed a classic Champions League encounter. That it stands out in the very top 1% of Messi’s 800+ career goals. And that he made one of the finest defenders of his generation look like a Sunday league player taking to the pitch after 10 pints the night before.
Boateng was no schmuck. By this point, he’d already stopped Messi as Germany proved triumphant in the 2014 World Cup final. He’d already won one treble with Bayern and would later add a second. The centre-half won the Bundesliga title in all but one of his 10 years at the club.
Sometimes you just have to recognise coming up against greatness. Guardiola, under whom Messi scored 211 goals in 219 appearances, certainly did.
“We had a lot of control but Messi’s talent just made the difference, that just happens,” the Bayern boss responded that night.
“In the end we lost our balance a bit. Barca are a great team and we have some problems.
“It’s impossible to stop him. Nobody can control Messi.”
• • • •
• • • •
Boateng, too, was humble enough to take it in his stride.
“That fall didn’t affect me, I laughed at myself too,” the defender reminisced a year later.
“When you fall or slip and someone scores, it’s something normal, these things happen.
“They happen to me and to other players, these things don’t worry me. For me, Messi is the best player in the world. This is football. I’m a defender, this doesn’t kill me or anything.”
He struck a similar tone during the early weeks of lockdown back in 2020, passing the time by answering questions via the hashtag #AskJerome and responding directly to one of a million queries about how it felt to be made to look so daft by arguably the greatest player in history.
honestly I would love to see each one of you defending against messi 😂😂 https://t.co/Jflx1R4NsR
— Jérôme Boateng (@JeromeBoateng) March 18, 2020
You know what? Fair enough.
The world of football is insanely competitive and full of ego. Suffering that kind of humiliation in such a big game must have stung.
You can imagine a fair few of the sport’s top-paid narcissists sulking, pretending it never happened and instructing their press officers to make sure they’re never asked about it.
Boateng is evidently self-assured enough to own it, accept being bested by the best, and move on. All power to him.
By Nestor Waatch