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Begging you for Messi

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Robbo Robson | 12:27 UK time, Thursday, 18 March 2010

It's been one of them weeks when the great and good of British football conduct a kind of continental love-in... a kind of Europhilia, if you will.

There are still some people who'll tell you the French are the best cooks (untrue: too much cream and I prefer to have my meat a bit closer to death before I eat it); that the Italians are the best lovers (untrue, unless Teesside is full of Romans and Neapolitans and beyond Chris Rea's Dad, I can't think of any); that the Swedes are the most beautiful (true: I went to Stockholm a while back and frankly the wife was rolling me tongue back into me gob like a liquorice wheel every five seconds.)

When it comes to footy, there are other statements we hold self-evidently to be true:
1. Jose Mourinho is a tactical mastermind.
2. Didier Drogba holds the world record for getting toys out of prams.
3. Barcelona are mmm... beautiful, luscious, mmm... so delicious... And they have Unicef on their shirts, so they're nice too.

Of course, fact number one is still denied by them that think Mourinho's just a kind of footballing George Clooney with a big mouth, no grace, and an ego the size of an errant footballer's 4x4. But there's a bit more to him than that. He's smart - smart enough to have cobbled together a team of Blue Meanies from the disparate millionaires he inherited from Claudio Ranieri.
Jose MourinhoMourinho puts his feet up at the Bridge
And, clearly, he's well-liked by those players. Lampard looked like he was talking to his favourite PE teacher in the tunnel before the game. Jose got into their heads and made the whole thing about him - which is how he sees the world anyway - and Chelsea couldn't get into gear at all.

Of course, they've missed Bosingwa and Cashley - when Ivanovic in particular gets near the opponents' penalty box he looks as confused as a bear in a costume drama - and Michael Essien might have stalked Sneijder with a bit more intent than the puddingy Mikel, who's that rare thing in modern football - a holding midfielder who can't hold on to anything.

Unlike Jose's centre-backs, of course. They were 'rugged'. Which is to say that the WWE are thinking of signing up Walter Samuel after the World Cup. I actually sympathised with Drogba on Tuesday night. Samuel's challenge in the penalty box in the first half had the Ivorian looking like a wildebeest shaking off a lioness - and still the ref did nowt.

Still, he and his team-mates were man enough to concede they were beaten by a better side on the night. Carlo Ancelotti, win or lose a trophy this season, will be offloading a few come July: Ballack, who's lined his nest very successfully whilst being half the player he was; Mikel, an utterly average footballer; Joe Cole, not exactly embraced by Carlo any road and looking less confident with every appearance. Deco, Ferreira, Hilario... actually all remnants of anything Portuguese might help Jose's Giants move out from under his well-tailored coat-tails.

I'm sure Mourinho's hopes are high of lifting the trophy now, that is until he watched Barca destroy Stuttgart. There's summat so goody-two-shoes about the Catalans that I find myself having to resist falling into a dead swoon every time I see them trot out onto the pitch. If you listened to some people, you'd think they were not so much playing the beautiful game as healing the world.

And yet... they were blissful at times on Wednesday night. They have the best conductor going, of course. Lionel Messi is still half a quicksilver step ahead of Rooney as the world's finest player right now. What I like about both of them is they work their socks off and don't spend too much time prowling around like some over-coiffed model on a Dolce and Gabbana billboard. (I speak here of the third footballing great in our midst at present.)
Lionel MessiMessi set the tongues wagging with his performance
Rooney is better in the air than Messi, but when young Lionel runs with the ball, the relationship between the two is positively umbilical. I just reckon he pips Rooney for the ability to create something all by himself.

Barca look better with Henry in the team instead of Ibrahimovic. I don't know anyone who actually rates Ibra. Everyone in our boozer just shrugged when asked if he was up to much, like we were talking about, ooh I dunno, Dave Kitson. Except Dave didn't cost £46m from Inter. (Mourinho brought in Milito and Thiago Motta and his team look way better for it.)

Barca do have a couple of jewels beside Messi. Iniesta floats around like a barn owl in footy kit. I never tire of watching the fella. Then there's Puyol, who's kind of what Gary Neville would be like if he had hair and talent. And Dani Alves - a tad prone to moments of utter dross but generally one of them brilliant Brazilian right-backs, but with more of the matador about him. A sort of Cafu Ole, if you will.

But it is Messi, ball at his feet, running at defenders like a clockwork mouse darting between the legs of narcoleptic cats, who makes Barca what they are at the moment. Here's hoping we get a Wazza-Mezza stand-off at some point in the competition.

In the meantime, a face-off between Inter and Barca might be good telly. Though whether Senor Maradona could watch if Samuel or the equally robust Cambiasso start tracking Twinkletoes about the park is another matter. I'd still tip Messi to come out on top, mind.

It's hard to see past the Catalans as champions but I'll keep me powder dry and tell you who's going to win it after Friday's draw.


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