My TV mentor insisted early in my career that commentary should come from the heart and not a script. So, when the 92nd minute of El Clásico came around, I was following his advice.
“The best there is, the best there has ever been, the best there probably ever will be…” are roughly the words that accompanied Lionel Messi’s dramatic game-winning goal against the arch enemy.
It was a bold statement and not one I’d have been prepared to script.
You see, some commentators prepare a little phrase for most foreseen occasions. Back in the day they used to get royalties for every time their commentary was used. I suspect it came after Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous “They think it’s all over...”
Little Lionel could have made me a millionaire if I had a kickback for every goal he’d scored complimented by my words. The winner has his 500th for Barcelona and I’ve been lucky to call a large percentage of them.
This one was almost beyond description, though. Earlier in the game he’d run around the field with a blood-stained towel after his jaw and teeth were almost dislodged by Marcelo’s elbow. Later Sergio Ramos nearly cut him in half with a tackle crude enough for the referee to immediately dismiss the Real Madrid captain.
Messi had already scored a mesmerising individual goal to breathe some life into Barcelona’s weakening chances of challenging for the title and the clock was running down to the allocated 92 minutes.
He was like the star of a Broadway show as he took up a position from the wings, as the chorus line worked their moves. It looked rehearsed, seconds remaining, the ball was cut back to the centre stage and BANG he hits the winner.
People were in tears... well Ronaldo was anyway! He bowed to the audience -although it wasn’t an appreciative Bernabéu- the world was astonished and words had to be found to describe what he’d just achieved.
I think it is beyond doubt now, to me, that he is the greatest. My co-commentator Gerry Armstrong is old enough to appreciate Pele and Maradona. He shared a dressing room with George Best and played against Cruyff; long ago he declared Messi is the most magnificent.
His first goal last Sunday took him beyond the legendary Alfredo Di Stéfano as the leading all-time scorer in Clásicos and his second was the 500th goal of his career.
Singularly he was the difference between Barcelona and a Real Madrid team that I still think will win La Liga and the Champions League.
Messi’s achievement is such that I was probably right to blurt out: “He’s the best there is, the best there has ever been and the best there probably ever will be.”
Can I copyright that?