Messi lights up my first Nou Camp experience
Waiting for the post-match news conferences after a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona swept into the Champions League semi-finals on Tuesday, a phone rang among the cameramen at the back of the room.
In a voice that would have carried back to his office without technological help, someone answered: “Yeah, Yeah. I’m in Barcelona covering the Arsenal versus Messi game.”
The Argentine’s four-goal blast will be remembered by many, not least myself on my first visit to the Nou Camp, and afterwards had everyone debating the qualities of each strike.
I preferred the first, because of the moment when it happened. The stadium and the Barca team were stunned by Nicklas Bendtner’s opener. Suddenly it seemed maybe an upset was on the cards.
Barca’s passes were going astray, Arsenal had their tails up, and then Messi stepped forward, or should I say raced to the rescue. He hit the first one so hard we could hear the thwack in the press area at the top of the main stand.
A colleague of mine went with the third, the scooped lob over Manuel Almunia, the Argentine not even checking his stride before shooting.
One of the Nou Camp catering staff heard us chatting as we walked down to the press area in the bowels of the stadium and shaking his head proudly told us: “He’s like this every week.”
Commentators, players and coaches fell over themselves to find new superlatives to describe Messi. “He’s playstation” said Arsene Wenger, adding to the list of non-human, extra-planetary descriptions.
Pep Guardiola played it all down and emphasised Messi’s human qualities and explaining the reason why he was so popular in the dressing room was because he was so down to earth. “We just want him to have fun.”
He persisted. “There are no words. You just have to see it.”
The concept of football as entertainment for fans, matches as shows, is often forgotten in the multi-million euro business of modern sport where success and titles are everything.
But Guardiola’s and Barcelona’s apparent quest to play perfect football for our benefit is infectious.
The smiling faces of people leaving the Nou Camp were a testament to that, and even the Arsenal fans we saw in a bar later seemed to appreciate they had seen something special and didn’t appear too downhearted at their side’s exit.
“See you next year,” they cheerily shouted to the barman as they left.
A text message from a friend summed it up for me: “You were there!”
PHOTO: Barcelona’s Lionel Messi celebrates his first goal against Arsenal in their Champions League quarter-final, second leg soccer match at Nou Camp stadium, April 6, 2010. REUTERS/Albert Gea.