THERE are some special moments, in life and in football, made only for some special magicians and there are some special moments which only these special magicians can make. When time appears to stand still, the world watches in complete disbelief and everything else doesn’t appear to matter at all.
Where these great magicians, with just one swing of their legs, can make memories that can last a lifetime. Somehow, fate appears to package it all together brilliantly — the big stage, the big moment, the grand expectations and the burden of responsibility thrust on these magicians.
Then, boom, it’s done, it’s delivered.
No hint of nerves, no hint of doubt, no hint of fear, no hint of failure, just pure magic, the kind of which only this special group of magicians can produce.
They do it so effortlessly, as if it’s very simple, yet it’s very hard, and they do it with a touch of beauty, so intoxicating, so amazing, so wonderful, so elegant, so exquisite, so stunning, so classy.
On Wednesday night, at the Nou Camp, the world watched from a distance as two football gladiators battled, in the first of two editions, for the right to play in the UEFA Champions League final this year.
Barcelona and Liverpool — two left-footed football wizards, both of diminutive frames, both of low centres of gravity, one of them, the King of the Nou Camp, Lionel Messi, the other, the King of the Kop, Mohamed Salah.
In the 82nd minute, the moment arrived, and the genetic miracle that has been this game’s soul, exploded, and everything else didn’t seem to matter at all.
A free-kick from distance, the sweet connection, to give the ball enough height to clear the human barrier created by the Liverpool defenders, enough power to ensure it didn’t continue with the rise, but at the right time, it would start to drift inwards.
The perfection of the execution, to find that far corner, to beat a goalkeeper as good as Allison from that range, was just incredible and, somehow, the football gods who showered him with all these gifts ensured that his 600th goal for Barcelona would be this beautiful strike.
A BARCA LEGEND, BUT QUESTIONS REMAIN AT HOME IN ARGENTINA
Messi’s stunner on Wednesday night cemented his legendary status at the Catalan giants where his statue will surely now stand outside the Nou Camp alongside that of Dutch superstar Johan Cruyff.
But, for all his unquestionable genius, where he is the closest thing to a freak of nature that this game has ever seen, there is an army of football fans in his native Argentina who defiantly refuse to acknowledge his legendary status.
His failure, so far, to repeat the achievements of other legends like Mario Kempes and Diego Maradona, by leading Argentina to the World Cup, has been a subject that has divided that country with some suggesting he doesn’t play with the same spirit, and endeavour, for his country, as he does for Barcelona.
The best article I read about this was scripted by Marcela Moray Aravjo, one of the most authoritative voices in Argentine football, who writes for The Guardian newspaper of Britain, in the countdown to last year’s World Cup in Russia under the headline, “Lionel Messi — traitor to some, genius to all and carrying the heaviest burden.’’
And, it’s a masterpiece.
“Some in Argentina revel in the joy he brings, others feel he lacks emotional attachment to his country. Can Messi take surely his final chance to win the World Cup?’’ writes Aravjo.
“The cross Messi has to bear for being Argentinian but not having won a major trophy for the nation is as unbearable as it is ridiculous.
“The dichotomy between club and country is the single most referred-to question thrown my way when it comes to Messi, ever since he sat on the bench as an unused substitute in 2006, sulking while Argentina went out to Germany.
“How come he delivers so much for Barcelona and so little for Argentina? He doesn’t sing the national anthem was one of the criticisms. And he never played in his own country’s first division.
“A perception has been voiced that somehow he is sometimes a ravenous winner (for Barcelona) and other times a disconnected outsider who does not feel the emotion of the strip (for Argentina).’’
And, last week, the man who coached Messi at the last World Cup, Jorge Sampaoli, also told his story.
“I coached the best player in the world, I don’t [know] if he’s the best in history, because he now has more than 600 goals in Europe, he’s broken all the records, but he arrives in his country and he’s criticised,’’ the coach said.
In rugby and cricket, greatness is defined by how a player performs for his country, and not for his club, and the legends there like Tendulkar, Kohli, Lara, Lomu, Israel Dagg and Sam Whitelock created their legendary status from what they did for their countries and not for their clubs.
In football, it’s slightly different, but there is no question that there is a lot of value that is attached to performances for the national team.
That Messi is the all-time top goal-scorer for his nation, scored all three goals for them when they needed a last-game victory in Ecuador to seal their place at the last World Cup, that it wasn’t him, but Higuain who missed a glorious chance that would have won the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, doesn’t mean a thing for his Argentine critics.
And, special moments, like what we saw on Wednesday night, don’t mean anything to them, either.
COSTA SAYS GOODBYE BUT HOW WILL DOMESTIC FOOTBALL REMEMBER HIM?
On the same day when Messi’s magic illuminated the Nou Camp on Wednesday night, Zimbabwe international defender Costa Nhamoinesu announced his retirement from international football, at the age of 33, after featuring for his country at the Nations Cup finals in Gabon two years ago.
Costa transformed himself into a fan-favourite, with some stellar performances for the Warriors in the 2017 AFCON qualifiers, his leadership qualities at the back, his energetic displays and the experience he gained playing in Europe, all coming handy to produce a fearless defender the supporters came to love.
It became very clear he was different from the defenders we had used to see among the Warriors, his towering height a huge asset for the team, both in defence and attack, where he used to reinforce the numbers in dead-ball situations, and scored a bullet header against Eswatini.
I have always been a fan of Costa, not because he is a good footballer, but because he is an example of those who defied difficult conditions in his early life, growing up in a family where his parents’ home in Harare did not have enough rooms for him to stay there all the time he ended up living with some relatives and friends in Chitungwiza, to fight his way into the other side of life using his talent in football.
One of the most humble and decent professional footballers I have come across, the other one being Nyasha Mushekwi, Costa just loves to give others respect, no matter who you are, and he is a joy to interview, always ready to take on the tough questions, always doing it with a smile, making you feel he is privileged to speak to you.
You don’t clock 188 appearances for a club like Sparta Prague, and score 12 goals as a defender, provide 14 assists and play for 16 272 minutes, at the last count, unless you are very, very good.
You don’t clock 308 appearances in the Polish and Czech top-flight league, in about a decade, helping your teams average 1.80 points per match, scoring 16 goals, providing 21 assists and raking up 26 807 minutes of action, like what Costa has done in his European adventure, unless you are very, very good.
You just don’t transform yourself from being someone who arrived at a Division Five amateur team in Poland, 11 years ago, into starring for the most successful team in the Czech Republic with 33 league titles, like what Costa has done, unless you are really good.
You don’t make 38 appearances in the Europa League and Champions League matches, scoring four goals, providing three assists and featuring for 3 208 minutes in the two top competitions, like what Costa has done, unless you are good and the coaches see something in you.
But, then, that tells just half the story.
Just eight AFCON matches, both qualifiers and at the finals, and a single goal, squeezed in 720 minutes, changes the game, in terms of the legendary status he probably would have received had he played more for his country.
Costa is 33, five years older than Musona, and that the younger fellow has already clocked 18 AFCON qualifiers, scored 14 goals, provided three assists, and spent 1 566 minutes for the cause of his country in the qualifying battles for the Nations Cup, shows the difference.
That Musona has also clocked 28 matches, 19 matches more than Costa, in service for his country, across all formats, while he is five years younger than his colleague, scored 20 goals, provided four assists and spent 2 381 minutes serving his country, draws the benchmark that divides good service and great service.
Costa, without a doubt, will be missed and still had a lot to give to his country, but it’s very unlikely his decision to retire will cause an earthquake in this country because, save for that two-year period between September 6, 2015, and the last 2017 AFCON finals game against Tunisia in Gabon, he never belonged to these Warriors.
Imagine what a 26-year-old Costa would have given to the Warriors, in Luanda in October 2012, had he marked Manucho in that second leg of the final 2013 AFCON qualifier where, twice, the gangly forward scored with headers to take the Palancas Negras into the Nations Cup finals?
Others will argue he probably had issues with ZIFA, but even Musona has had issues with the association, but to his eternal credit, put the interests of his country ahead of everything else, and decided to serve his nation amid all the horror he endured, and that what defines greatness.
What makes King Peter such a figure the whole nation loves is the way he sacrificed, now and again, for the sake of his country — including, but not limited to, jumping into a car after a match in England, with his full kit on, using the dressing rooms at Gatwick International Airport to freshen up and change his clothes, catch the plane to Johannesburg, arrive in Harare at midday and straight into battle for the Warriors.
It’s something Costa, for all his talent, will never be associated with.
Goodbye Costa Nhamoinesu, one of our best football exports to Europe, but who will never get the legendary status his talent probably deserved, because — like Messi in Argentina — there will always be an army questioning his contribution, and to a large extent, his loyalty to the national team.
To God Be The Glory!
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Text Feedback — 0772545199
WhatsApp — 0772545199
Email — [email protected]; [email protected]
You can also interact with me on Twitter — @Chakariboy, Facebook, Instagram — sharukor and interact with me every Wednesday night, at 9.45pm, when I join the legendary Charles “CNN’’ Mabika and producer Craig “Master Craig’’ Katsande on the television magazine programme, Game Plan.