Football Features

Lionel Messi: The Champions League’s God of Thunder has a promise to keep

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:48, 26 April 2019 | Updated: 19:04, 29 April 2019

The Champions League semi-finals are upon us, we’re in the Endgame now.

Everyone knows Lionel Messi’s story by now. Discovered in Argentina as a youngster, he joined La Masia when he was 12.

At Barcelona, he was rushed through the ranks and debuted in 2005. His genius was obvious but injury hampered him. That’s when Pep Guardiola showed up and got him on the kind of diet Chris Hemsworth uses to get in shape for Thor. Things picked up.

Origin

Messi has been the best player on the planet for more than a decade now. An impossibly skilled player, he’s dominated La Liga since 2008 by winning nine titles (and he’s about to make it 10) and has won four Champions League trophies, too. His power level is so far above everyone else that, just like Thor, he can only be judged on his own scale.

No other Avenger could teleport halfway across the galaxy and then flatten an entire army of outriders with one swing of his axe, just like no other footballer could, say, score 92 goals in a calendar year or lay claim to two Champions League semi-final wondergoals like Messi does for his strikes against Real Madrid and Bayern Munich.

A True Hero

But Messi once had it all. He was part of what was unequivocally the best team in the world and perhaps the best team of all-time. Then he lost it all. Players left, got old, etc. and suddenly the number of teammates on his level had dwindled to a fraction of what it was. Messi was more or less on his own, forced to carry Barcelona on his back.

This sound familiar? Thor was once surrounded by a loving family and a close circle of friends. Then he lost his mother to a Dark Elf, his girlfriend dumped him, his father passed on, his beloved hammer Mjolnir was destroyed, his sister tried to kill him so he was forced to destroy his homeworld to stop her, his brother was strangled to death and his best friend got stabbed through the heart.

Sure, he still had some allies (Valkyrie, Korg, the Avengers) but then the snap happened and half of them vanished. Thor now stands isolated, much as Messi is isolated. The Argentine has had to evolve his game to encompass the quality and influence of Xavi and Andrés Iniesta as well as his own. He has to do this because there’s no one else around who can. Messi, like Thor, has to step up and exert his full might or his side will face ultimate doom and defeat.

And that’s exactly what he has done. Messi has carried Barcelona to the brink of the treble (it would be his and his club’s third) through sheer genius and skill. Repeatedly he comes out of nowhere to rescue his side, elevating them from good to great or from great to genius. He has the most goals and assists in La Liga. In fact, he dominates just about every metric there is.

Oh, and also both he and Thor had long hair when they were younger but only went truly god-mode when they had haircuts. That may seem superficial but the shedding of the mops paralleled their (unintentional) shedding of allies. A symbol that they had to go it alone.

Endgame

And go they did. Messi is an absolute titan with a left-foot as all-encompassingly powerful as Stormbreaker and a right-foot that can afford him the kind of control Mjolnir did Thor. There are times when Messi is on a roll and defenders are falling at his feet that he genuinely does look like the Asgardian himself mowing down wave after wave of enemies. Cue the Led Zeppelin!

So what is Messi’s endgame this season? It’s obviously a third treble of his career. The Blaugrana enter every season determined to win every trophy they contest and this season they’re as close to doing so as they have been since their last treble in 2015. They’re in the final of the Copa del Rey, where they’ll play Valencia, and they’re currently nine points clear at the top of La Liga with six games left to play.

And finally, they’re back in the Champions League semi-final for the first time since they last won it in 2015. That trophy, the Champions League, is the most important for Messi. He’s won domestic doubles galore in his career but has won the European Cup just once since the 2011 win in Wembley, and that was four years ago.

Their three consecutive quarter-final eliminations have ended their attempts to win previous Champions Leagues (and thus trebles) in 2016 and 2018, and these failures have worn on Messi. The Argentine had the chance to drive his side into a semi-final against Liverpool last season, but much like Thor when facing down Thanos at the end of Infinity War, he failed to “aim for the head.”

Thanos was allowed to live and, as a result, the Mad Titan snapped half the universe away. Messi’s failure to dispatch Roma wasn’t quite as dramatic, but seeing his team throw away a 4-1 lead was pretty damn close. He personally saw to it that this was avoided this season, obliterating Manchester United in the second leg with two goals and a stunning pre-assist.

Now he’s got that semi-final against Liverpool, one of only two elite sides he’s faced more than once and never scored against. He’ll want to set that record straight before heading to Madrid to seal the Champions League win he promised Barcelona fans last August.

Just like you wouldn’t bet against Thor helping guide The Avengers to finally overcome Thanos, you wouldn’t bet against Barcelona’s own God of Thunder leading one of the most scattered, talent-deficient Barça side in his career to bring the Champions League, and thus the treble, back to the Camp Nou.

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