Barcelona should be about to go six points clear at the top of La Liga as on Wednesday they travel to Sporting Gijon for a game rearranged from December, and they do so on the back of a stirring second half display against Celta Vigo, one that included Lionel Messi’s not-at-all disrespectful penalty pass for Luis Suarez.
Messi didn’t cook up the idea with the intention of mocking Celta. He and Neymar – for the lay-off was meant for the Brazil international and not the Uruguayan, so it wasn’t about giving Suarez his hat-trick – discussed the idea in training on Friday. They couldn’t have done that setting out to make fun of the Galicians. Barca may be on fire but they’re thoroughly professional, and it’s hard to imagine any of their players expected to be so comfortable against a team that a few months ago beat them 4-1.
Those critics who feel Messi and Barca were lording it over Celta a little too much may have, it could be suggested, seen only the penalty, not the thrilling match that preceded it. Barca may have romped to a 6-1 win but that doesn’t tell the full story. Celta didn’t roll over at Camp Nou and were well worth half-time parity. They could even have gone ahead in the second half. Barca instead had to ride their luck and then dig down deep. The passed penalty was the ultimate expression of that, a sign Barca can and will find new ways to beat even the most dogged of opposition.
Barca didn’t rub their superiority in to Celta’s faces. They revelled in their own excellence, and there is a difference. Messi, Suarez and Neymar earned the right to bring out the tricks and the flicks in a second half played mostly at a stunning level. It was Barca’s 30th game unbeaten in a row, and rarely can they have been at such a high standard. Rarely can any team have been such at such a high standard.
For the penalty pass to be disrespectful then any kind of trick must be disrespectful. Step-overs? Gone. Unfair on the defender – though anyone who saw Messi leave Jony a broken wreck to win the spot kick in question might actually want the lollipop outlawed to save the embarrassment of the poor souls who have to stop the Argentine. Dummies at free kicks or in open play would have to go too. Rabona passes next. Anything that fools the opponent, as Messi’s penalty did, wouldn’t be welcomed if the moaners had their way.
But the penalty pass is allowed – though it has been suggested Suarez was technically encroaching as Messi played the ball. Rabona passes are fine too. And step-overs. And Cruyff turns, dummies, feints, swerves – anything brought from street football to finely-manicured turf that stays within the laws. And that is what Messi, Suarez and Neymar are – the world’s greatest street footballers, playing for love and enjoyment, and that should be cherished, not derided.