12 April ~ English football has always had an uneasy relationship with all things continental. The absence of any teams from "The Best League In The World" in the semi-finals of the Champions League this season has been greeted as a national disaster but this would not have always been the case. When the tournament was first created in 1955, Chelsea were forbidden from entering it by the Football League chairman, Alan Hardaker, and even the England team did not play in a World Cup until 1950.

While this insular attitude thankfully no longer prevails, its remnants can still resurface. Although Barcelona have spent the last year routinely outclassing the best the Premier League can offer, leaving their opponents not so much beaten as thoroughly humbled, the league’s cheerleaders have complimented them through firmly gritted teeth. Only now have people in this country acknowledged that Lionel Messi might just be the best player in the world.

Refusing to see what was glaringly obvious, the blinkered claimed he never turned up in big games, which was not true, or that he underperformed against English teams – as if that is the only way to evaluate a player. Messi’s 40 goals this season have been put down to the weakness of Spanish defences, but Arsenal are the only side he’s scored four against.

There is a desire to bring down teams who achieve transcendence. Barcelona’s dominance in Spain is laughably derided, sage voices here offering the view that they’d like to see their “pretty, tippy-tappy football succeed week in, week out against Stoke”. After all, it is impossible to judge a player’s greatness until he has proved himself against Rory Delap. Reserve all judgement otherwise.

Three weeks ago, Phil Thompson described Wayne Rooney as “streets ahead” of Messi. Rooney is undoubtedly having a fine season, yet surely even he would admit that Messi currently has no equal. While Sky are within their rights to promote their product, they also have a duty to provide objective punditry. Sky are not the only ones guilty of Premier League tub-thumping. When the Daily Mail reported on the FIFA World Player of the Year last year, their headline ran The best players of the world (and Xavi), a breathtakingly stupid statement that is only made to look even more ridiculous by each meticulous display from the Barcelona midfielder.

A national newspaper behaving in such a lazy manner is just part of the malaise. When Manchester United were drawn with Bayern Munich in the last eight of the Champions League, and Bordeaux or Lyon in the semi-finals, it was glibly asserted they would breeze through. That would be a Bayern team containing no-marks such as Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lyon who knocked out Liverpool and Real Madrid, and Bordeaux, the French champions. Ignorance is bliss. Reality is harsher. Jacob Steinberg

Comments (14)
Comment by t.j.vickerman 2010-04-12 11:06:10

All this Messi hype is out of control. Ask yourselves this: what has he ever done against England? Exactly!

Comment by RayDeChaussee 2010-04-12 11:45:00

I quite agree. Bet he won't be feeling quite so inventive after JT stops him in his tracks with a subtle reducer at the World Cup.

All this hype and he only scored once at the weekend as well. Rubbish if you ask me.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-04-12 13:50:05

True Arsenal had their full strength side out with no injuries to key players, particularly in defence and the Spanish league is blessed with teams (other than Barca) who regularly make it to the latter sounds of the Champion's league.
Messi is a fantastic player, but I don't think you will find all that many media outlets who disagree with that.

Comment by Bruno 2010-04-12 14:20:13

Rooney recently called Clarence Seedorf the best player he'd ever played against, so it's always worth considering that English league players don't necessarily read the game the same way English fans do.

Comment by JacobSteinberg 2010-04-12 15:18:04

Lincoln, Barca were without Iniesta, Pique, Puyol and Ibrahimovic. And if you could point out where I've said the Spanish League is better than the English, I'd be most grateful. You're sort of proving my point.

Comment by Lincoln 2010-04-12 15:48:44

After you point out where I accused you of saying that Spain is better than England.

Comment by JacobSteinberg 2010-04-12 16:36:08

'and the Spanish league is blessed with teams (other than Barca) who regularly make it to the latter sounds of the Champion's league.'

The point of this comment is?

Comment by tactictoe 2010-04-12 16:46:07

"or that he underperformed against English teams"


I've heard people say as much, he scored the in the final against Manchester united for goodness sakes!

Comment by Lincoln 2010-04-12 16:55:45

It's me being sarcastic, which you got with the Arsenal comment, that the Spanish teams do not get to the latter rounds suggesting that the Spanish league is possibly weaker and therefore it would be expected that Messi would score more. Firstly it was for the sake of argument but your pointed tone has entrenched my view somewhat. Messi is an undeniably good player and Barcelona a great team, but it is only really hit home when they do well in Europe. That it is currently against English teams where teams show there class is not the media or me being parochial, it is simply that the teams in the latter stages are mostly English. When people think of the great AC Milan side they tend to think of the great European nights when the destroyed teams in the finals. They do not think Van Basten was good because he scored quite a few goals in Serie A, even with the stronger defences he faced.

Comment by mkultra303 2010-04-14 08:32:03

i'd rather watch stoke than that foriegn rubbish

Comment by mattsmithgb 2010-04-15 09:09:38

As someone, along with many other actual football fans, who has watched Barcelona and Messi these past few years, could you please not lump us all together with the Daily Mail reading, Richard Keys following idiots who conform to these myths you talk of.

Comment by Paul Bowen 2010-04-20 18:39:15

Enough with the straw man rubbish.

"The absence of any teams from "The Best League In The World" in the semi-finals of the Champions League this season has been greeted as a national disaster"

Where? By whom? Links please.

"When Manchester United were drawn with Bayern Munich in the last eight of the Champions League, and Bordeaux or Lyon in the semi-finals, it was glibly asserted they would breeze through."

Again, by whom, where?

I bet you can't come up with more than one or two examples to support these assertions. When I saw the last eight draw I did think the final would probably be Barca v Man U, but what kind of fool thinks there's any 'breezing' to be done through such class opposition? People are surprised there are no English clubs in the last four for the simple reason that we've gotten used to them being there, not because we assume they have some sort of right to be there.

fyi, many English fans, including this one, are delighted that the rich clubs who sit on the face of the English game have received some measure of comeuppance in Europe this year, so your gloating is misdirected in a general forum.

Comment by Brindin 2010-04-22 15:20:14

This article is flawed (in that it starts with one thrust and weaves in another) and designed to provoke comment. Close, but no cigar, judging by the meagre responses (worked for me though).

While the author has not overtly stated that 'the Premier league is not the best in the world', thereby being able to tell detractors 'you've missed the point', the implication is there.

For what it's worth: Yes, the best player (in his position) plays in Spain. The most successful team plays within the Spanish league. If Barca win the Champions league they will be the best team in Europe (if Champions league progression/winning is criteria). But if Milan win it, they will be the best, having also won it twice within five years, but featuring in an extra final, as losers in 2005.

But if Champions league dominance is the criteria for 'best league', the Premier league wins, hands down.

Over the preceding five seasons, the Premier league has contributed six finalists and two winners. Spain has featured Barca, twice, and both times they won. Italy has featured Milan twice, winning once.

The fact that three premier league teams have featured within that period as opposed to one from Italy and one from Catalonia suggests Sky's 'tub-thumping' in promoting the Premier league (which is their product, Rooney afterall is his own man) is actually reality. And I loathe Sky.

Comment by Brindin 2010-04-23 13:07:35

Sorry, I have been a bell3nd. Apologies for that last post. Clearly, Inter and Milan are not the same side. Goodbye.

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