Back to the Future: Champions League final 2022-23
That day marked the third anniversary of FIFA’s “Replace the Referees with computers” program, a program that forced referees like Howard Webb and Mark Clattenburg to join Manchester United for a living. However, this milestone was overshadowed by a certain Lionel Messi, who decided to end his legendary career after that match. And that was enough to draw half of the footballing world to Wembley. Cristiano Ronaldo was also there to witness the curtain falling on the career of his biggest rival, and he was accompanied by footballer-turned-film star David Beckham and WWE superstar Pepe “The Sledge Hammer”.
Ronaldo recently signed a 1-year deal with Manchester United after his contract expired at LA Galaxy and he would have played in the final if United hadn’t lost to Real Madrid in a controversial semifinal. The memories of that semi final will definitely haunt the United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for the rest of his life. The Red Devils could not snatch a win even though they brought back the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Sir Bobby Charlton from retirement and George Best from the grave. Speaking of semifinals, the Catalans also had to beat an English team in the semis. Barcelona came through against Chelsea, whose manager John Terry was heavily criticized for using the old “parked bus 10-0-0 formation” during the match. At Wembley, the pitch was the only thing in the spotlight, giving a cinematic experience to the match. The crossbars and wood works were neon coated which made them glow. The ball used also had its specialties as it was a joint venture by the big guns – Nike, Adidas and Puma – and also had the superpower to glow in the dark just like the woodwork.
In the tunnel, Messi was standing with his ten-year old son Thiago by his side. Thiago was signed for a whooping 50 million by Arsene Wenger, along with fellow Argentine Benjamin, who was popular because of his superstar father Sergio Aguero and legendary grandfather Diego Maradona. Barca coach Pep Guardiola hugged Messi for one last time. Messi had been part of Pep’s both spells at Barcelona, with Guardiola saying once that his motive to leave Manchester City and come back to Camp Nou was “a chance to manage Leo for one last time”. Though we all know that his reason for leaving City is their decline and relegation to the first division, as they say money can’t buy everything.
In between all these, the main highlight in England was the recall of Sir Emile Heskey to the National Squad. Many say that he has been out of form for the last twenty years but his 8 goals per game average at Australia and his attributes in FIFA 22 somehow support the recall. The lineups were shown on the referee screen as the clock ticked to midnight.
Barcelona: GK – Igor Akinfeev; DEF- Gerard Pique, Andre Fuentes, Kiko, Micah Richards; MID- Pedro, Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere, Sergio Busquets; ATT- Lionel Messi (c), Alexander Pato.
Real Madrid: GK- Sergio Asenjo; DEF- Mamadou Sakho, Gareth Bale, Rafael Toloi, Dodo; MID- Mezut Ozil (c), Oscar, Sergio Canasales, Ever Banega; ATT- Neymar, Romelu Lukaku;
The best thing about the lineup was Shakira was still present though there were rumours that she had split up with Pique because of John Terry. “Dive, dive, dive, pass, pass, pass kill, kill, kill “ – this was the chant in the Barcelona dressing room. In the Madrid dressing room, Mourinho shouted “Pass to Neymar even if he’s on the bench”. The stage was set for that epic match. The players came into the pitch wearing their bullet proof jerseys and “Cech head gears”.
The whistle rocked the stadium and within the first ten minutes, Busquets got his first gold medal for diving. As play progressed, Real Madrid was definitely missing Valdez, who is ranked as the player with most assists for Real Madrid. Wilshere’s moves around the pitch made Mourinho think about dragging back Pepe into the pitch. At the same time, Neymar was causing problems for the Barcelona defense. Iniesta and Xavi arrived in the crowd in between the match to assist Messi during his retirement. Iniesta currently plays for Mohun Bagan in India while Xavi runs a “Assist to everyone” soccer school. At half time, the score remained 0-0.
The second half started with a yellow card for Lukaku for getting a shot at goal for Real Madrid. The decision made it clear that even if Referees are replaced, UEFA will never stop supporting Barcelona. The match continued to be interesting as Messi was scared many times by the bloodshot eyes of Ozil. Still, it was 0-0 at full time.
By this time, the Spaceship had arrived at the top of the stadium to take Messi back to his planet. So the referees decided to avoid extra time and go straight to penalties. The first 8 penalties went like a Twilight film, it just didn’t have any emotions. Everyone scored and no one saved. It was 4-4 on penalties. Neymar took Real Madrid’s fifth penalty and as though he had taken lessons from Sergio Ramos, he scored. And now it was 5-4.
The last penalty for Barcelona was taken by none other than Lionel Messi. As usual his bald head shined in the light. That kick was Messi’s last of his career. That one kick had the power to take him to the stars or drag him to hell. That’s the cruel side of football, even if time passes such moments keep coming. And that’s why we love this game so much. Messi stood behind the ball and gazed at Asenjo. The cameras focused on Ronaldo in the stands and came back to Messi. The crowd went silent and Messi started his run…