Peter Crouch is a columnist for Sportsmail
Sitting at home on Wednesday night, watching the Champions League semi-final, it took me a couple of seconds to process what happened.
I never like to see Liverpool lose but when Lionel Messi scored his second goal — that free-kick you could watch again and again and again — I had to get to my feet. It wasn’t to celebrate, it was simply to acknowledge his genius.
There will come a point when I am able to tell my grandchildren that I shared a pitch with Messi. It might only amount to two minutes — 60 seconds, home and away, in a Champions League last-16 tie in 2007 — but it is in the record books.
I will tell them repeatedly because he is the greatest footballer of all time. You try to think of new ways to talk about what he does and the best I can come up with is that he is a living monument; a footballer whom everyone should try to go to see at least once in their lives.
If you have the chance to watch Lionel Messi live in your lifetime then you just have to do it
Of course, people will have their own views on what defines the greatest. There will be a group that insists the title belongs to Pele. Others will choose Diego Maradona, for what he did with Argentina in the 1986 World Cup and Napoli during his time in Serie A.
You cannot forget Cristiano Ronaldo, either. He has become the ultimate goalscorer. His speed and power have enabled him to set records and change the way centre forwards operate. I love Ronaldo and think he is out of this world.
But he is not Messi. It is not a slight on Ronaldo, it is just Messi has this natural gift that has enabled him to play football in a way that nobody else has ever done. Put it this way: if he dropped back down the pitch, he would become the best midfielder of all time. His passing is extraordinary.
Messi is the greatest player of all time – his awareness is like nothing I have ever seen
The funny thing is, Liverpool actually handled him well for long parts of the game but there was a point during the match when I heard the commentary team say he had been ‘quiet’ and I knew, there and then, that it wouldn’t remain that way.
It’s the little things he does. You see him floating and lurking in these pockets of space and then, suddenly, he will get the ball and start weaving his magic and spreading panic. The touch, the movement, the awareness are like nothing I have ever seen.
Then there are the numbers — 10 league titles in Spain is ridiculous and there could be a fifth European Cup at the start of next month. If a club could boast such a list of honours, you would class them as being one of the all-time greats. Messi has rattled that up in 14 years.
The dark edge that Messi has to his game has helped him to become so successful
In that spell, he has scored 600 goals. 600! He is treating the Champions League and La Liga in the same way I used to score in the Hayes and District Under-10 League. The level of football is so high now but his consistency has never faltered.
What I also like, too, is the dark edge to his game. He knows how to manipulate situations and exploit referees. He did it against Liverpool, when he won that free-kick, jumping into the back of Fabinho after his run had been blocked.
He would not have reached the top without ruthlessness. But he is out on his own because of the fantasy he can bring to a game. I have no doubt I will go and watch him in the flesh once more before his career ends. If the opportunity comes up, I suggest you do the same.
It was a relief to hear Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen had not suffered concussion against Ajax but I was still surprised by the incident.
In the first column I wrote for Sportsmail in November 2017, I explained why I will have the dementia test when I stop playing to see what impact heading the ball has had — the test Alan Shearer had for a BBC documentary.
It was a relief to hear that Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen didn’t suffer concussion against Ajax
Head injuries are something with which I am familiar. I’ve been concussed a couple of times, had my teeth knocked out and ended up with staples to close gashes after collisions, so I know the damage that can be done if you hurt that part of your body.
If a player is concussed, whether it is at the training ground or during a game, they cannot be involved in any physical activity for a week. No chances are taken and they have to adhere to those rules.
Vertonghen’s collision was sickening and I was surprised it was decided he could carry on. I know players want to stay on the pitch for as long as possible but they need to listen to what doctors are telling them. You cannot take any chances.
I was surprised that it was decided that Spurs defender Vertonghen could carry on playing
Ruthless Rafa Benitez will not roll over for Liverpool
This is the definitive weekend of the title race. I would expect both Manchester City and Liverpool to win their games on the final day, so whatever happens over this Bank Holiday will determine which team become champions.
Will Liverpool be able to lift themselves after defeat in Barcelona? If there is one manager who will be able to exploit any slips, it is Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez and I can assure you now the feelings he will have for his old club will mean nothing at kick-off on Saturday night.
Rafa is cold and ruthless. If Burnley played Liverpool and I scored a goal to stop them becoming champions, I’m not sure how it would sit with me. Rafa, by contrast, will not have given a moment’s thought to the implications of a Newcastle win. He just wants three points.
Ruthless Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez will not make matters easy for his old side Liverpool
If Liverpool can get through the test in the north east, the pressure goes back on to City. They were superb at Turf Moor last week and we could not have done any more to stop them but they beat us by the smallest margin of Sergio Aguero’s goal.
Leicester, however, will be just as tricky. I expected them to be in the hunt for the final European place and they have lots of players I like, such as Harry Maguire, James Maddison and Jamie Vardy. They have what it takes to hurt City.
But City are relentless. They are the best team of the Premier League era; better than Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ and Manchester United’s treble winners. The title is in their hands.
If Liverpool do finish second, there is no disgrace in that.
If Liverpool end up finishing second in the Premier League there is no disgrace in that
NEXT UP FOR ME…
It’s our end of season awards next week but I am not sure I will be in the running for a prize… I may also try to catch Catfish and the Bottlemen, who have just started touring.
WHO’S CAUGHT MY EYE… Lionel Messi
I may have devoted the main read to him but I realised while writing it that he hasn’t appeared in this particular little section yet and I know how much it will mean to him!
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO…
Noel Gallagher’s new tune Black Star Dancing. It feels like it is a new direction for him as it is not like anything he has produced before. I have listened to it a lot but I really can’t make my mind up about it yet.
WHAT I’VE BEEN UP TO…
I’ve been working hard to get fit for Burnley but there was a day earlier this week that I spent filming for a big and worthwhile charity, the results of which will be out soon.