“We lost against a team better than us with the best player in world. He made the impossible possible. He has something exceptional. He is unstoppable,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said of Lionel Messi in April 2010.
Messi had just scored four goals against Arsenal in the Champions League. At the time he was the Ballon d’Or holder and widely regarded as one of the two best players in the world.
His performance against Wenger’s Gunners was something truly special. A match that underlined how Messi had already outgrown conversations about the era he belonged in and instead to the annals of football’s entire history. He was only 21 years old at the time. The following year Wenger declared him as the greatest player of all time.
“He is the best player in the world by some distance. He’s (like) a PlayStation. He can take advantage of every mistake we make,” the legendary French coach added.
“He has six or seven years in front of him, touchwood that nothing happens to him, and he can reach unbelievable levels.”
And so he did. In the seven years since that mauling of Arsenal, Messi scored approximately 350 goals for Barcelona. He won two more Champions Leagues, and a second historic treble. There were a further five La Liga titles, three European Golden Shoe and four Ballon d’Or.
That was just in seven years. We’re now approaching 13 years since Wenger compared Messi to a PlayStation player. The Argentinian is now 35, has conquered every frontier, and remains a footballer that stretches credulity. He’s still among the very best in the world.
Just take a look at the latest example of his greatness. The 95th minute. 25 yards. Dead centre.
PSG had squandered a two-goal lead to fall behind at home to Lille and were staring down the barrel of a fourth successive defeat. Kylian Mbappe had got the Ligue 1 giants back on level terms late on before a free-kick in a dangerous spot gave Messi the chance to win all three points.
You know what happens next.
“Messi’s like a PlayStation. He can take advantage of every mistake we make. He made the impossible possible. He has something exceptional."
13 years later, Arsene Wenger's words still ring true. pic.twitter.com/jot5Apnx0I
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) February 19, 2023
Just over two months have passed since Messi led Argentina to the World Cup in Qatar, killing stone dead any lingering doubts over his legacy, and – for many – any debates over who is the GOAT.
After Argentina’s No.10 scored twice before slotting away his penalty in the all-time classic final against France, the dominant narrative was that Messi has completed football. The problem for PSG is that there’s still half a season left to play.
The Ligue 1 champions were sensational before Qatar 2022. New coach Christoph Galtier appeared to have sculpted a side that was more than the sum of its superstar parts, with a solid platform for its all-star front three to flourish. The trio of Messi, Mbappe and Neymar looked unstoppable prior to the mid-season break. This looked like a side capable, finally, of bringing the Champions League trophy back to Paris.
The World Cup hangover seems in danger of derailing the whole season. PSG have looked unrecognisable since they returned. They’ve lost more matches in 2023 so far than they lost in the entirety of 2023.
Galtier’s side were knocked out of the Coupe de France by old rivals France, their Champions League progression looks in serious doubt after a 1-0 home defeat to Bayern Munich, and such is their form that even their Ligue 1 form – unthinkably – looks in doubt.
Having squandered a two-goal lead at home to Lille, everything looked in danger of spectacularly imploding when sporting director Luis Campos made his way down to the touchline to get involved. Never a good sign.
📸 – Incredible scenes in Paris as the technical director Luis Campos has left the stands and is currently shouting to his own players from the sideline, with the manager behind him. pic.twitter.com/SOmSRvmNNK
— 𝐀𝐅𝐂 𝐀𝐉𝐀𝐗 💎 (@TheEuropeanLad) February 19, 2023
Neymar seems to have taken Brazil’s shock quarter-final defeat to Croatia in Qatar particularly hard.
You might question whether the world’s most expensive player had heeded the warning from Mbappe that they “everyone needs to be healthy, sleep well, eat well” when he was pictured enjoying a late-night McDonald’s session days later.
Having been stretchered off during the win over Lille, perhaps the question over Neymar’s motivation will now be rendered moot.
But what of Messi and Mbappe, who gave everything in Qatar as they faced off in that epic final?
Mbappe seems to have his head in the right place. He looked electric in his short cameo against Bayern, has already scored five goals in one game in 2023, and scored twice in PSG’s comeback victory over Lille.
“Personally, I will never stomach it,” the forward said after returning to club action in December. “[But] my club is not responsible for this failure with the national team. I try to come back with positive energy.
“I tried to bring a boost to my team, and [we hope to] continue our season undefeated. It was a World Cup – the club has nothing to do with it.”
Psychologically Messi will be in a different place. There’d be every reason for the hunger to have waned in these final post-World Cup chapters of his career.
But the 35-year-old looks as though he wants to enjoy his great, well-deserved victory lap. Don’t write off a few more of these superhero moments.
Messi has proven for well over a decade that he possesses otherworldly powers. He doesn’t look ready to return to earth just yet.