Today of all days we probably shouldn’t talk about who we’d like to vote for, but let’s not be coy. I make no bones about it. I’m planting a big fat X in the box next to Lionel Messi’s name. He has to be the greatest footballer that’s ever graced this planet.
His performance for Barcelona against Bayern Munich last night was a mesmerising and magical treat. In a contest between two magnificent teams that set its own standards of grand excellence, the Argentine’s talent and match winning skills were still on a higher plain. You don’t need me to list the reasons why, but there has never been anyone better.
While I’m in the polling booth I’d also vote Manuel Neuer in as football’s finest ever goalkeeper too.
When Jamie Redknapp dropped this bombshell during his half-time analysis at the Nou Camp last night, social media’s heartbeat began to feverishly race. All and sundry were insistent the Sky Sports pundit had jumped the gun in making such an outlandish statement. I didn’t think so.
On this morning’s Talksport Breakfast Show, host Alan Brazil gave a similar reaction when I brought it up in conversation during the paper review. “Whooooahh there Clarkey! Steady on,” was his instinctive riposte, but when I followed it up by asking, “Who’s been better then?” it didn’t prove an easy question to answer.
In my lifetime, only Gianluigi Buffon and Peter Schmeichel come close.
I thought Neuer’s save to deny Luis Suarez a goal from a 1v1 early on in Catalonia, encapsulated his mastery of the art.
Refusing to dash off his line and commit too early, the Bayern stopper timed his angle-narrowing manoeuvre to consummate perfection.
Making yourself tall and wide concurrently (without losing your balance completely) is harder than it looks when you’re flying towards a striker at speed. Yet the way he spread himself to ensure Suarez couldn’t beat him to the left, right or over his head, was impeccable – and also admirably athletic.
It won’t be replayed as often, but that save was every bit as flawless as Messi’s exquisitely crafted second goal. Making skill that special look natural is, I guess, what the greatest do.
Redknapp’s argued that Neuer has taken goalkeeping to a new level with his ‘sweeper keeper’ style. I’m with him on that.
He’s not the first custodian to read play and sprint off his line to tidy up attacks, or to distribute the ball with the confidence of an 11th outfield player - but has anyone ever done it as effectively or as impressively as Neuer? Has the rest of their game been as flawless in other departments too? I don’t think so.
Buffon and Schmeichel are two of the greatest exponents of the trade we’ve ever seen. If we’re talking presence, confidence, decision-making, temperament, athleticism, technique, bravery etc, it’s hard to pick out many, if any faults with that legendary pair.
But based on what I’ve seen during the last five years, I do feel Germany’s 29-year World Cup winner has surpassed the standards they set.
He’s allowed his club and country to press and to play higher up the pitch, safe in the knowledge that he’s there to cover any eventuality, and he’s done that without showing any weakness whatsoever in the rest of his game.
Neuer has redefined a keeper’s role AND raised the fundamental standards of the job.
When it comes to shot stopping, distribution, command of the penalty box, and decision-making, have you seen anyone better? I haven’t.
Sometimes I don’t think we know how lucky we are to be enjoying Messi and Ronaldo at their peak, but Neuer shouldn’t just be lumped in with the best of the rest.
I think he’s the greatest keeper that’s ever played the game.
Does he get your vote too?
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