Now standing on the doorstep of a rare treble, even for the decorated giant of Catalonia, perhaps it is easy to look back in retrospect and say the inevitable was all a matter of destiny. When it was announced that Luis Suarez would be joining Barça, fans of the football behemoth frothed at the mouth thinking of the three-headed hydra that would serve as the attacking point of team for the following season.
A Launching Point
The legendary Messi had already made his mark on the world as a multiple winner of the Ballon d’Or – a prestigious achievement reserved only for the best FIFA footballer of the year – and he was joined most recently by Neymar. The Brazilian flurry had already transgressed his wunderkind status among football diehards; he had proven himself beyond a mere curiosity brimming with potential at the club level in Santos as well for the Seleção on the world stage. He remains 5th all-time in goals scored on his national side, and he has reached the 43 goal mark in just 61 games at the age of 23. He also reached the 50 goal mark for Barça in just 81 matches. He soon transgressed being a mere sports figure though, being ranked the most marketable athlete in the world, and appearing as a role model for young fathers around the world with the birth of his son at the age of 19. His winning personality thanks to his on and off the pitch career achievements made him a perfect fit on the visible stage at Camp Nou.
He’s become one of the most recognisable faces on our screens, not simply because of his stunning right foot, but because he’s the face of some of the world’s most familiar brands. He’s signed with the likes of Volkswagen, Unilever, and most recently PokerStars, joining former Barca star Ronaldo as an ambassador for the brand.
After a season alongside Messi on the Catalonian frontline, fans already had a reason for excitement with a somewhat down year for Messi sure to be an anomaly, and another season of chemistry to gel, plus a new head coach in a promising Luis Enrique to lead the squad from the touchline to glory.
With the addition of the somewhat troubled but indubitably talented Uruguayan striker set to join the ranks of the offense, football fans had every expectation that Barça’s attack was set to simply steamroll opponents’ backlines. Liverpool had a public relations issue with Suarez, who was now known for a Mike Tyson-esque penchant for cannibalism, with a seeming particular fetish for opponent’s ears. Liverpool’s loss of talent was the perfect opportunity for Barcelona to pounce, and pounce they did with all the vigour of their newly recruited striker on an unsuspecting Giorgio Chiellini.
Completing the Trident
As he has been alongside the prolific scoring talents of Messi and Neymar, it has been nothing but smiles, balls hitting the back of the net, and winning. In fact, the trio stands at 111 goals after a 3-0 drubbing at Camp Nou in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final against Barça’s old boss, Pep Guardiola, and his Bayern Munich squad. They will have an opportunity yet to officially become the world’s deadliest attacking trio, chasing the mark set by their cross-country rivals of a few years ago when Ronaldo, Benzema, and Higuain collectively tallied 118 goals scored. This possibility is distinctly made all the more probable given their recent clip of 18 goals scored between them in their last five matches. Only time will tell, but regardless if they eclipse the historical mark, their collective prowess will remain legendary.
How is it that these players have meshed so well, off and on the pitch? Let us take a closer look and trace the narratives to their hard-earned, team-oriented success.
The Established Great
Even the casual fan knows of the exploits of the diminutive Argentinian tour de force, one Lionel Messi. His football acumen, unparalleled footwork, combination of speed and quickness, and ambidexterity are all breath-taking. As a whole package, he is only rivalled by his Portuguese rival, Cristiano Ronaldo, an offensive missile all on his own (although it should be added the rivalry only exists on the pitch, thanks to a massive gulf between the public perception of the two; one being the humble, unassuming, self-less superstar that stays out of the paparazzi spotlight while Ronaldo is frequently the subject of tabloid speculation regarding his love life and façade of arrogance).
Indeed, his old manager Guardiola, after the aforementioned Champions League semi-final two goal spanking at the hands of his former star, recently hailed Messi as “the best player of all time” in his return to form. That greatest ever talk is not just hyperbole either: anytime you dwarf your national hero in the figure of one Diego Maradona, you have everyone’s attention. Messi has already won virtually every team and individual award, securing his legacy as an all-world, all-time great. The one achievement that has proved elusive is looking into the cameras and hoisting a World Cup trophy into the air, although it is hard to fault his performances on the international stage during the quadrennial tournament for that.
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Yet, even the best have their down years. Last year, avid watchers were wondering if he had lost a step. After all, as another sports pundit in the looming form of Shaquille O’Neil is fond of saying, “Father Time remains undefeated.” Yet, he was still in the prime of his career, so that argument did not register. Whatever the case, this season he has been simply brilliant in La Liga and the Champions League alike, ranking first across such categories as games played, goals scored, assists, chances created, and dribbles. In his regular season matches, he eclipses the goal count of his teammates (Neymar with 34 and Suarez with 24) with a total of 53 of his own.
Neymar and Chemistry
While Messi is the leader of this formidable attack too, not just because of his senior standing with the club, much of their success as a group is attributable to their off-the-pitch chemistry. This is evident in the myriad social media posts of the trio embracing and smiling, liberally throwing around words like ‘star,’ ‘fabulous,’ and ‘best in the world’ in regards to each other. Their celebrations are telling, too; after the third goal scored by Neymar, Messi ran up as the two cheerfully hugged until they fell to the ground. He even called Messi his best friend. Who is to argue the point about their chemistry and unselfishness with the 39 assists between the formidable trio? They may very well go on to become widely known as the best ever.