Win Champs League, and Messi's the best
Victory will make him the greatest of all time, a winner's medal the promise of immortality
JUVENTUS v BARCELONA
(Tomorrow, 2am, Singtel TV Ch 111)
The greatest footballers triumph in the greatest games. The performance is just as important as the stage itself.
One elevates the other.
Many are cowed by the occasion, but Lionel Messi is a master of ceremonies.
Pressure propels him. He leaves tension to others. Where others slip, he soars.
Rather than yield to an intimidating environment, he bends big games to his will.
It's a winning habit that leaves him in good company.
Diego Maradona's one-man show against Belgium in 1986, Zinedine Zidane rising above Brazil in 2002 and Ronaldo's taming of Old Trafford in 2003 all provided entry permits to that exclusive club of icons.
Messi enjoyed one of those imperious displays against Bayern Munich last month, when he essentially took down the German defence on his own.
But then he helped himself to another against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final, where he treated four good men like traffic cones.
He made perfection seem almost mundane last month. Greatness isn't a rarity with Messi. It's a way of life, a career filled with picture-perfect goals and games.
And now he's poised to kill that old debate in the Champions League final tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
If the smoke clears and the Barcelona genius is left standing among broken bodies in Juventus jerseys, it all ends.
Messi will be the greatest, not of his generation, but of all time.
It seems almost uncouth, ignorant even, to rely on numbers to define a man's artistic legacy, like judging van Gogh by how many times he swept a paintbrush across a canvas.
But in the case of Messi, the stats amplify his talent, a pertinent reminder that his inhuman consistency must not diminish his unrivalled accomplishments.
Gianluigi Buffon called his opponent an alien this week and there remains something otherworldly about his achievements.
Barcelona are a game away from a treble essentially because one man took down the defences of both Bayern and Bilbao.
Messi's staggering resurgence leaves him with a ridiculous 35 goals in 2015 alone. If he's on target in Berlin, he'll be the first player to score in three Champions League finals and he'll move level with Cristiano Ronaldo's career total of 78.
Victory will make him the greatest of all time, a winner’s medal the promise of immortality
For a generation raised in virtual reality, the original PlayStation footballer has brought the implausible to their flat-screen TVs for almost a decade.
From his hat-trick against Real Madrid at just 19 to his playful disemboweling of Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final, Messi turned the elusive simplicity of a genius into a weekly serial.
Tune in at the same time next week to watch the Argentine maverick eviscerate another batch of skittish defenders.
Watching a Messi highlights reel is the same as listening to the Lennon and McCartney back catalogue; a greatest hits package beyond compare.
Many artistes release fine singles. Some even conjure a couple of classic albums, but Messi has dropped one platinum disc after another.
He managed nine goals, two assists, a domestic double and a place in the Champions League final in May alone.
It's hard not to take such jaw-dropping consistency for granted. So, it's probably better not to count the ways in which Messi reigns supreme, but to watch them. Just watch him.
Watch again how he crushed the resolve of 11 men twice in three minutes and 24 seconds against Bayern.
Then watch him collect the ball in the Copa del Rey final, some 48 metres from goal. Drink it all in. Get intoxicated on the explosive acceleration, the lateral fizzing, the woodpecker-like jabbing of that left foot. Recall the swaying, spinning, conniving dribbling, losing four markers, taking the breath away and stealing hearts before knocking in another Goal of the Season contender.
Remember these moments and compare them to Ronaldo, Zidane, Maradona, Platini, Cruyff, Best, Pele and Di Stefano. Remind yourself that they, too, stretched beyond the game's biggest stages and touched true greatness.
But they didn't do it as often as Messi.
Since November, he has found a second wind and changed gears. He's the scurrying ant once more, evading the cynical boot of a bigger bully, always inventive, forever captivating.
And now he's a game away from a confirmation. In a season already lavished with classics, he needs one more to put both Juventus to the sword and that tired debate to bed.
Victory must make Messi the greatest of all time.
His teammates can leave Berlin with a treble. But only his winner's medal comes with the promise of immortality.
"Man-marking in football is from a time gone by. You try to control Messi with spaces, looking at where he can get to and where he is dangerous. But he moves inside and outside, down the wing, on the left… it’s very difficult to think about controlling a player who is uncontrollable. It’s ridiculous — there’s no way."
— Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone on Lionel Messi