Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand has recalled how Lionel Messi left him devastated when the Red Devils faced Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League final in 2009 and 2011.
Lionel Messi has established himself as one of the best footballers of all time, having won seven Ballon d’Or awards. Apart from winning a plethora of trophies, he has built a reputation for giving nightmares to defenders, including Ferdinand.
Ferdinand helped Manchester United keep clean sheets against Messi’s Barcelona on their road to Champions League glory in 2008. However, he was left heartbroken by the Argentinean in the final of the competition in 2009 and 2011.
Lionel Messi scored one of Barcelona’s two goals in their 2-0 win against the Red Devils in the Champions League final in Rome in 2009. He was also among the scorers when the Blaugrana earned a 3-1 victory over the same opponents at Wembley on the same occasion two years later.
Revisiting the final in Rome, Ferdinand pointed out how Messi scored a header to earn Barcelona the win. He insisted that the forward’s ability to produce a spectacular header despite his short stature on a big occasion like that sets him apart from the rest. He told BBC Sport:
“Rome, that one we could have and should have won maybe. When Messi scores the header… in the Premier League, against some players, or even in the Champions League against some players, no disrespect, I’ve gambled on their lack of ability to be able to get the ball past me.”
“I’ve done that in the Champions League final and the problem was the person on the ball was Xavi, you’ve got to know the players you’re dealing with.”
“He put it on for Messi, who scored an outrageous header really. He hasn’t scored many of them in his career, but he has done it in the big moment. That separates the good from the great.”
Ferdinand went on to explain how Messi became unplayable after he was given more freedom than usual on that night in Rome. He added:
“We had played against him before and we had locked him down, but this was a different Messi. This was Messi with more freedom to run around and be central, whereas before he was really stuck wide, so you could pin him down a bit.”
“Still great, but when he was allowed that freedom to be able to move and pop anywhere and surprise you, he was unplayable, like ridiculous.”
The former defender then switched his attention towards the final at Wembley, where Messi fired Barcelona to a 3-1 win against Manchester United. He stated that the Argentinean was the catalyst for the Catalans putting the Red Devils to the sword that night. Ferdinand said:
“He [Lionel Messi] was actually better at Wembley. I remember sitting on the pitch, it was cozy, and watching them go and lift the trophy and just going, ‘We just need to get off’ because they just took our soul and Messi was the main ingredient.”
“He was the player that I was meant to go up against and he just played away from me and all of a sudden, he’d turn up, bang, he’s there. Just a wonderful footballer, you can’t even put into words how good he is.”
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🏴 Rio Ferdinand: “I don’t think we will ever gonna see another Messi.” @btsportfootball
Ferdinand also confessed that he got himself drunk after both the finals to forget the heartbreak inflicted by Lionel Messi. He recalled:
“The feeling of being deflated and dejected and devastated and your heart has been ripped out on the pitch the way I’ve been… I’ll tell you one thing, I was probably as drunk as I’ve ever been for both of the finals we lost. The party was crazy because you are drowning your sorrows.”
“Prime time Lionel Messi, unplayable!” – Ferdinand
Ferdinand then claimed that Lionel Messi did not even give him the benefit of hindsight after those matches. He concluded his assessment of the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) superstar by hailing him as ‘unplayable’. He said:
“You try and break down situations and say you should have, could have, would have, but when it is happening at the speed they happened and when you’ve got a player like Messi, who makes decisions quicker, more decisive and more effective than anybody else, it is almost impossible.”
“Prime time Lionel Messi, unplayable!”
Apart from triumphs in 2009 and 2011, Lionel Messi also helped Barcelona win the Champions League in 2005-06 and 2014-15.
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