T his week, football has improvised the perfect movie script, full of fight, heart, desire, determination, tears of anguish, tears of joy, unsung heroes taking centre stage and the impossible becoming possible. This movie is a true story that ended with two English teams reaching the Champions League final, proving that maybe the Premier League is the best in the world after all.
On Tuesday there was hardly a dry eye at Anfield after Liverpool’s astonishing comeback against Barcelona. Mo Salah might not have been able to play but he even gets his T-shirts right: the slogan he was wearing, “Never give up”, said it all. On Wednesday, we saw Lucas Moura demonstrate that being allowed to leave by PSG last January and his lack of playing time since does not restrict his ability to achieve a superhero hat-trick in a Champions League semi-final.
Then came the tears of joy in Mauricio Pochettino’s post-match interview the following night that left me choked, understanding that after five years in the job, unable to buy players in the previous transfer window, he and his team had gone way above and far beyond expectations.
It shows that this game is not all about technique and that character, will and emotion also have a massive impact. There can be no other explanation for the fact that Lionel Messi, one of the greatest players of his era and of all time, was so massively outshone by Gini Wijnaldum and Divock Origi. Tuesday was not the first time that I have seen Messi, when his back is against the wall either for Barcelona or for Argentina, somehow look sorry for himself. When his teams need leadership and look to him, sometimes he seems just to have a blank expression. Compare that to the character shown by players such as Origi and Tottenham’s hat-trick scorer, Lucas Moura, who bore huge responsibility on their shoulders in the absence of Mo Salah and Harry Kane.
One of the things that made Liverpool’s achievement all the more impressive was that this is the same squad that were seven points clear at the top of the Premier League in January, that looked certain to win the title, and have probably messed it up. Other teams, having had to come to terms with that kind of disappointment, would not be fighting the way Liverpool are fighting now. They did not let that failure define them or defeat them, and instead that same side will now be defined by a brilliant victory over one of the greatest teams and probably the greatest player in the world.