Three thoughts after Barcelona defeated Manchester United 3-1 to win the UEFA Champions League title:
• Greatest team of all time? Barça's in the discussion. What more can you say? This Barcelona team deserves to be considered among the best in history, not just for the way it dominated scorelines but also for the swashbuckling style that none of us will ever forget seeing. After having to sit through several disappointing Big Games in world soccer (including last year's World Cup final), we got to see Barcelona and Manchester United deliver a classic. All credit to United for coming to play and staying even through halftime at 1-1, but Barça unloaded all of its weapons in a dominant second half and forced United into submission. The great thing about Barça's reign is this: it is not just winning soccer. It's beautiful soccer, too, and the main reason for that is ...
• Lionel Messi cannot be stopped. I think it's possible that Messi is somehow underrated. Everyone knows he's the best player in the world, but not everyone grasps that Messi is so much better than any other player that he's off the charts, a complete freak. Messi showed some of his best stuff in this final. So scared were Manchester United's defenders of his ability to beat them on the dribble that they gave Messi space to unleash a thunderbolt of a left-footed blast to give Barça a 2-1 lead. And that was Messi who completely broke Nani's ankles on the play that led to David Villa's game-sealing strike and a 3-1 lead. In a modern game dominated by physical size and athleticism, Messi is the most special of outliers, a player of ordinary size whose skill and vision and chutzpah are taking this game to a new level.
• Fox has to get its act together. On the day when a big final delivered a memorable game, the only negative aspect was Fox's pre-game coverage, which continues to dumb down the sport and compare it to other U.S. sports. ESPN proved with its excellent World Cup coverage that you can cover soccer straight up for an American audience without having to turn it into Soccer for Dummies. Fox, sadly, has yet to figure that out. And so we got Michael Strahan making a dimwitted appearance comparing fútbol to football and inane coverage of Gerard Piqué's relationship with the singer Shakira. It's enough to make you hope ESPN/ABC manages to get the rights back to the Champions League.