His boots were filled with gold.
Leo Messi’s golden boots scored twice in the April 2017 El Clasico that ended 3-2. The game had everything. The first goal made him the fixture’s all time leading goalscorer, and his second allowed him to smugly show the back of his jersey to the Santiago Bernabeu fans as if to say, “I own you.”
While the humility of Messi would never allow him to say those words, his play did all the talking after taking an elbow to the face in the first half to lose a tooth or six.
Despite Neymar’s absence through injury, this El Clasico had everything – an epic game-winner, three lead changes, a Sergio Ramos red card and a more than a few missed opportunities from Cristiano Ronaldo in a game that had huge title implications.
Real Madrid ended up winning that 2017 La Liga season for only their second domestic triumph since Ronaldo arrived in 2009. Although Ronaldo got some form of revenge in the following Spanish Super Cup, Messi’s shirt raise to the Madridista faithful will be in folklore for generations to come.
Unfortunately, Sunday’s El Clasico will be the first time in over 11 years that fans all across the world won’t see Ronaldo or Messi on the pitch. The ecstasy of seeing Ronaldo – who left for Juventus in the summer- and Messi, who awkwardly fractured his arm, will be no more.
Perhaps it’s fitting that Messi would get injured with just over a week before Real Madrid come to the Camp Nou, marking a new era of Spanish derbies that will never quite be the same without the Portuguese star.
I remember all the classic El Clasicos from the past 10 years or so. From the famous Spanish midfield matchups to the touchline feuds between Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, there was always something that would get me excited. Now, without Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar, Iniesta, and Xavi, I’m not jumping out of my seat to watch the big game.
Still, Messi is Barcelona’s captain and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Coutinho, Suarez and company can hold the fort down and provide for some exciting link up play in Messi’s absence. Bale, Asensio and Isco will be dangerous for Madrid, and their midfield trio could cause the Catalans some headaches.
Whoever plays more disciplined defense, led by their leaders and total off-the-pitch besties in Pique and Ramos, will surely come out on top in this one.
While the future of the world’s greatest sports rivalry looms in uncertainty, Sunday’s match will give a good glimpse for what that future may look like.