Champions League Final Preview (with LOP’s Maverick)

next season for handsome financial reward. But my goodness, there’s going to be more to this game than that people. This will be his very last game in the famous red and blue stripes; at his advanced age, it is likely that he will start the match on the bench, but you can bet that Luis Enrique will insert him into proceedings the moment he feels the need to assert some control on possession. It has been a true pleasure and a privilege to have spent my entire career by his side.” Amen to that.

Maverick: If you read certain sections of the sporting press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Lionel Messi is going to be the only player on the pitch in Berlin on Saturday night. Is it just Mav and I who are noticing it?

These two midfield maestros have redefined what it is to play the position through the course of their careers. Is he a unique, once in a generation talent? Undoubtedly. He is a unique player who will never be repeated, fundamental for club and country. Juventus are no slouches either, as seen by the fact that they toppled the ultra talented Real Madrid to get here. Encouraged by his mentor Pep Guardiola, Xavi’s technical qualities- the close control, the vision, the obsessive perfectionism- defined an entire era of the game. Look, Messi is absolutely great. In the quarter finals of Euro 2012, he singlehandedly passed England off the park in one of the greatest individual performances I have ever seen; Roy Hodgson’s side had no answer to the deep lying playmaker’s vision and passing range. They couldn’t get near him. all of that is beyond words. Unlike one club man Xavi, Pirlo actually left his beloved Milan in 2011 after being deemed surplus to requirements due to his age. He became symbolic of the Barcelona way and in turn, the Spanish way, the style of football we came to know so well as tiki taka. Unlike Xavi, he will still be a key man on Saturday night, but like Xavi, this is his last game at the top level of club football, as he is due to move to New York City F.C. Typically though, Pirlo has graciously accepted the Italian national team’s plea to continue bossing their midfield in their efforts to qualify for Euro 2016. Pirlo is perhaps the ultimate hipster footballer, with his award winning wine vineyards, propensity to read philosophy and the portentous post-match interviews. At his best, he often had a pass completion rate in the high nineties. Juventus, not quite believing their luck, stepped in and took the great man on a free transfer. While Xavi the pass master was known as much for his modesty and his unassuming attitude to his gifts, Andrea Pirlo is a different character altogether, a charismatic figure who seems to have stepped straight out of a nineteenth century romance with his flowing hair and rugged beard, a cool head in a footballing nation known for volatile and temperamental maniacs. I cannot find words that reach his level as a player and a person. But you can. As the heartbeat of the great Spain side that won Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 consecutively, Xavi showed the world that possession is everything in modern football. Afterwards, Pirlo said that Hart’s energetic behaviour on the goal line, designed to put the penalty taker off, had made his mind up for him “now you get the spoon”, Pirlo had said to himself. That is outrageous. Andres Iniesta, his partner in midfield during those halcyon days in the late 2000s, said the following about him: “I have run out of eulogies. It is football boiled down to its simplest tenet. If the other side does not have the ball, they can’t score. Truthfully, I find the whole “magic of Messi” narrative incredibly tiresome. No disrespect to Messi at all, but he’s simply getting way too much play here. At Juve, Pirlo showed that, far from declining, he had actually aged like one of his fine wines. That, to me, is what this final is all about.. With the bearded wonder pulling the strings, Juve have won four Serie A titles in a row. Barcelona is loaded with talented players from top to bottom. England somehow managed to cling on through extra time to take the game to penalty kicks, but Pirlo had the last laugh, putting an outrageous “Panenka” penalty past Joe Hart, dinking the ball in a slow loop into the empty space Hart had dived from. Any discerning fan, if asked which footballer they would most like to be, would say Pirlo.

Cult: People do know there are more players than Lionel Messi on the pitch today right? To echo the sentiment of what Mav said a moment ago, it’s almost ridiculous how much press Messi is getting, as if he’s become the LeBron James of football. Xavi was the conductor of the orchestra, dictating tempo, tone, and volume. The years, the success, the feelings, the way he did things … So, with apologies to Mr. Their goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon, described it as “the signing of the century”. Whether he’s the best player I’ve ever seen in football or not is up for debate, but there’s no doubt he’s an otherworld talent and he may just be the best player alive right now. Messi, I’m going to focus on the narrative that is closest to my heart; the respective swansongs of the magnificent Xavi (who has spent the last decade supplying Messi’s ammunition) and the peerless Andrea Pirlo of Juventus.

We will not see the likes of Xavi and Pirlo again; it saddens me that this will be their last hurrah on the grand stage, but really this is a night to celebrate two of the greatest players of the era. But amidst all the highlight reels of Messi goals, assists and moments of genius, it is often forgotten that he has played his entire career surrounded by a supporting cast of world class footballers, without whom his brilliance would not be possible

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