I swear you’ll never see anything like this ever again, so watch it, drink it in.
To quote Martin Tyler, sometimes you need to take a breath and appreciate that you’re witnessing something special. That iconic line of commentary was in response to one of the most unforgettable moments in football history – Sergio Aguero’s injury-time, title-clinching winner against QPR – but you could just as easily apply it to watching peak Barcelona.
Only years later might it dawn on you what a privilege it was to watch all-time greats like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta on the same team for over a decade.
If you grew up with football-obsessed family or friends, chances are you’ll have heard them wax lyrical of the greatest players of their era. Might’ve been George Best. Might’ve been Johan Cruyff. Might’ve been Diego Maradona. Something about growing older is recognising in yourself becoming wistful and nostalgic, maybe your voice’ll even crack like that hilariously emotional Newcastle fan ringing in to talkSPORT about Micky Quinn.
If you grew up in the late 2000s and 2010s, chances are – whoever you support – that Iniesta and Messi are among the names you’ll one day reminisce about being truly special.
And a viral clip – shot from the stands, treating you to the verisimilitude of how thrilling it was to see these aliens in the flesh – perfectly illustrates what made them so good.
Midway through the second half of a 4-1 victory over city rivals Espanyol back in December 2016, Messi picks the ball up on the wing and plays it back towards Iniesta.
The veteran midfielder loses his footing as the opposition players are onto him like a flash, but he somehow regains his balance, holds off his man, and produces too lightning-quick pieces of footwork to take out to players and return the ball to Messi.
Never to be outdone, Messi picks up the ball in the midst of a throng of Espanyol shirts. He beats one man with a cheeky nutmeg. And four deft touches later he’s somehow evaded three more and is bearing down on goal.
“When we played against Man United, we knew Ashley Cole would deal with Cristiano Ronaldo,” recently recalled former Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel.
“Against Barcelona, the entire week of training was about trying to stop Lionel Messi by kicking him. There is zero comparison, Messi is from a different planet. He is that good.”
You can see that reflected with the way Espanyol’s defenders swarm around Messi – and still can’t stop him from breaking through into the box.
The camera’s view is then obscured as bodies from the Camp Nou rise, realising they may be about to witness one of the most ridiculous goals of Messi’s career. The clip misses how Messi’s shot is saved by the ‘keeper, but captures Luis Suarez on hand to slot home the rebound.
— Diego Torres Romano (@diegotorresro) November 18, 2023
“I always picture him with the ball at his feet. That’s the way I have got used to seeing him,” Messi discussed, as featured in the brilliant book The Artist: Being Iniesta.
“He does everything well, with simplicity. At times, it may look like he’s not doing anything, but in fact he’s doing it all. Everything is different with Andres. The hardest thing to do in football is to make it look like everything is easy, effortless, and that’s Andres.
“He has more contact with the ball than me; he’s the person who starts moves, who gets things going. I know how difficult it is to do what he does. His play is different, it comes from when he was very little, even though he has clearly improved over time and with different coaches. Maybe you could say that both of us have something of the street in the way we play.
“When you’re a kid playing on the streets you take on board things that are very useful to you later. You get used to playing with older players and not changing your game because of that; you play your way. Andrés and I are similar in that we both use our bodies a lot, to avoid opponents.
“But he has something that always amazes me: there’s always a moment when you think you’re going to catch him, when you think you’re going to get the ball off him, but you can’t. He’s not especially quick, but he has that ability to always get away from you, which comes from his technique.”
It’s a beautiful passage that ought that ought to be read over that specific clip, of those two freakishly brilliant footballers combining in sumptuous style.
We’ve found the official broadcast clip to give you a full look at the move, and it’s no less ridiculous.
Here's Messi & Iniesta vs the whole Espanyol team.
— Caño Football (@CanoFootball) January 24, 2018
“Andres, thank you for all these years of football,” Messi wrote on Instagram when Iniesta’s departure from Barcelona was confirmed in 2018. “It was a privilege to enjoy this sport by your side and have so many unforgettable moments together.”
It was just as much of a privilege to watch them. You’ll never see anything quite like it ever again.