Gary Neville: Messi – His mere existence means anything is possible.

People often talk about great players and I have always thought the definition was someone who consistently delivered in major tournaments, making the difference in World Cups, Champions League trophies or league titles.

In our league, think about how Robin van Persie dominated the early part of the season, winning the games for Manchester United that provided the foundation to be 12 points clear now; think back to this time last year, when Yaya Toure took the title race by the scruff of the neck and dragged Manchester City over the line.

But, for me, greatness was re-defined on Wednesday night. I’ve been around a few people who have an aura and a presence.

When I was a 19-year-old professional at United, Bryan Robson would walk into the changing room and change the atmosphere. Sir Alex Ferguson can do the same.

Eric Cantona had that kind of charisma about him. I suppose I would have said previously that a sign of greatness is when someone walks into a room and everyone looks up.

But I’ve never seen nor been in a stadium where the impact of a player was as great as the Nou Camp on Wednesday night.

(Getty)

(Getty)

Then, all of a sudden, this 5ft 6in bloke, who has an injury which means he can’t run, enters the pitch.

And you could hear, see and sense everybody in the stadium being utterly changed. From the fans, who suddenly found their edge, to the Barcelona players, who started to create chances straightaway, and, perhaps, most of all, to the PSG players, who were mesmerised.

They changed from a team that looked as though they could win comfortably into a team without belief. It wasn’t as though there was a mere tactical or technical difference. It wasn’t something physically you could point to.

It was felt as though something spiritual had happened. You really had to be in that stadium on Wednesday night to appreciate the magnitude of Lionel Messi and the impact he can have.

For the first half, he was on the bench injured but in the managerial position, right at the end of the bench, as though in control. In the second half, I was watching him and he got up on his own to warm up when PSG scored after 50 minutes.

There was no instruction. He simply got up and almost brought himself on to the pitch after 62 minutes.

His influence at the club seems that great. He walked on rather than ran. In fact, he could hardly move.

He was caught offside twice early on and couldn’t track back. He clearly couldn’t work himself into a sprint.

You put Messi into that team and you’re transforming a very good team into the greatest team of all time.

People will say there is a lot more to Barcelona than just Messi. Xavi and Andres Iniesta are rightly considered two of the finest midfielders of all time and the club have other world-class players.

And you could point to the fact Spain have won the World Cup and two European Championships, using a team largely drawn from Barcelona.

The performance in the Euro 2012 final went down as one of the great displays from an international team.

But the reality is that, even if the World Cup draws more attention, the Champions League is operating at a higher level than international football.

Given that you can draw players for your team from all around the world and that they work and train together every day, rather than in sporadic blocks of time, it would be surprising if the best club teams weren’t better than the leading national team.

That’s not to diminish what Spain have achieved. They are the best national team. It’s just that Barcelona – with Messi – are on a level above that.

But if Messi isn’t fully fit for the final part of the season, they won’t win the Champions League. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and perhaps even Borussia Dortmund are stronger: they have more energy and aggression; they are in sharper physical shape and in better form.

On balance, I’d expect a Real- Bayern final. But Barcelona have Messi and we are witnessing one of sport’s all-time great performers. His mere existence means anything is possible.

Read the entire article on the Daily Mail website. 

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