Football causes a lot of soul-searching for me. Oftentimes, I wonder what is that drew me in to this ridiculous obsession; why I’m so fascinated by the many players and clubs around the world and the fortunes of people I’ll never know. I think that one of the most seductive aspects of the beautiful game, for me, is the chance to witness history as it happens. I grew up reading books and articles about players with ability of mystical proportion: Maradona, Pelé et al and the impossible seeming exploits they managed with a ball and the world at their feet. Yet, even when watching video, these heroes of the past seem like just that – fictional heroes, drawn up by some novelist of the years before me. The opportunity to witness these acts in their contemporary context – happening, real, and in my time – is one of the things I crave and find a real beauty in.
Due to this fascination I have watched almost every FC Barçelona game in recent times because they have, as I’m sure you’re aware, the man who many believe is the greatest footballer ever to step foot on a pitch. Yet, on an ominous Tuesday night for his Catalonian giants, not even a magician like Lionel Messi could pull a rabbit out of the hat as they were crushed by Paris Saint-Germain. This is a player who, with my own eyes, I have seen so things that are wholly implausible. He is impossibly good and every time his team is struggling he somehow conjures up another spell, a supernatural force that simply doesn’t belong amid a scientific field of tactics on boards and a rush of athletes sprinting around a grass pitch. In the Parc des Princes, the hero was muted.
On these European nights, icons are made. Much has been made of the Parisians’ 4-0 drubbing – Emery’s pressing tactics, Luis Enrique’s occasionally puzzling selection, Barça’s inconsistency this term – and such academia is generally the form of analysis I particularly place interest in. However, at its core, football is about the footballers. Imperious in midfield, a stout, shaved Italian by the name of Marco Verratti orchestrated the thrashing of what was thought to be Europe’s greatest side. With every touch of the ball, he brought alive the boisterous calderon surrounding him and was relentless as helpless legends such as Andrés Iniesta, Luis Suárez, Lionel Messi and the like were oppressed by his work.
Of course, Marco did not do this alone. There could have been several nominees for man of the match and maybe some would say he was not even the most impressive player in the PSG midfield. Yet, at the end of Valentine’s day, all I could envision was the figure of the 5’5″ Italian sorcerer effortlessly weaving his way around the Parc des Princes turf beneath the beautiful Paris sky, his name forever inked into footballing history and stories that will last forever.