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Monday, November 29, 2021

Lionel Messi steps out of the shadows to provide a reminder of his enduring quality

They queued up outside The Lowry for hours before this game for a sight of Lionel Messi. Five miles away from the Etihad Stadium, supporters stood behind barriers waiting for the little genius. 

Paris Saint-Germain are more like rockstars than footballers. Their entourages filtered in and out of the five-star hotel as the French club prepared for this Champions League game. But the superstar above them all is Messi. The reaction to his name being read out pointed to where he ranks among his fellow Galactico team-mates Neymar and Kylian Mbappe.

When Pele, Eusebio or Diego Maradona came to England, spectators only saw the glimpses of what made them great. On a cold December evening in Manchester, they did not want to miss seeing Messi. At the final whistle, one Messi fan broke free of security and begged for his idol’s shirt.

Messi was quiet for much of the game but a few moments of quality, including setting up Kylian Mbappe’s goal, were reminders of his class.  

To watch him in the warm-up, you could be forgiven for wondering if his heart was still in it after leaving his beloved Barcelona in the summer, forced out after agreeing a contract but financial regulations preventing him signing it. 

His socks were around his ankles as he languidly knocked the ball around. PSG set up players for an intense “rondo” drill of keep-ball but Messi never veered far from a 10-yard space in the confined box. 

Just when the warm-up told you Messi was having a night off, he smacked the crossbar with a shot from 30 yards. This was also the pattern of Messi when the match started. For much of the time he was at walking pace, happy to watch others dash around and press the ball. In the end, though, the ball always comes back in his direction and then comes the explosion. 

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