The sports car crept out of the underground car park, the window came down and the player signed a few autographs and then sped off – within the speed limit (take note, Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez) – into the Barcelona night and off to his Castelldefels home.
Lionel Messi had just completed one of the great nights of his career, even if he had been a little overshadowed by Luis Suarez, who had scored four.
Messi collected a hat-trick, Gary Neville’s Valencia had been defeated 7-0, and it was another of those nights you left the Nou Camp pondering just how great this current Barcelona team might be and just how privileged we are to live in the age of Messi.
It was a small point but notable nonetheless that the sports car in question was an Audi. Doubtless Messi has several more-exotic brands housed in a garage somewhere at home. It’s not quite a counter-cultural statement on a par with Jurgen Klinsmann’s choice to drive a battered VW Beetle in the 1990s, when the Porsche 911 was becoming de rigueur for Premier League footballers.
And it would be ludicrous to suggest there is an absence of ego in Messi. Witness his childish strop in January 2015, when his disenchantment with Luis Enrique seemed to be in danger of destroying the club’s season.
Yet the Audi is at least a nod in the direction of a club unity. It was Xavi who reprimanded Zlatan Ibrahimovic for turning up to training in a Ferrari, informing him he should drive the club-sponsored Audi or risk alienating fans in the midst of a brutal economic recession. You can imagine the response; the Audi A4 and Zlatan don’t quite have brand alignment.
Yet Messi is a significantly more important footballer than Zlatan. Other than The Pope, and President Barack Obama, he is possibly the most-famous, recognisable man in the world. And unlike those two men, he can drive whatever he likes. The Audi sports car is perhaps the compromise between the desire to flaunt your success and a realisation that the team’s needs and those of the club should be respected.
For the one thing that sets this Barcelona side apart is the sheer joy when they play. You only really ever see that from teams where the dressing room is harmonious and Messi is a key part of that mix.
Bad Messi, in sulky teenager mode, is capable of dragging the club down; good Messi can drag them to new heights.
Just as important in this mix, and perhaps more surprising, is the willingness of Neymar and Suarez to accept co-star billing in this show. On that night against Valencia, who were undeniably terrible, they were almost goofing around in their brilliance, as they attempted to ensure Neymar got on the scorehseet; he didn’t, even missing a penalty.
It was the same on Sunday night against Celta Vigo: that flick from Neymar, that penalty from Messi and Suarez. It’s fun when they play and there is something beautifully interdependent about these three players; the third and sixth goal on Sunday night amplified the point.
Suarez and Neymar would dominate any other club at which they played, other than perhaps Real Madrid and even that is debatable. And yet these three players appear to have a personal chemistry that delights in each other’s company, as though they know together they are (almost) unbeatable.
As such, they are the antithesis of Real Madrid’s BBC. It’s hard to imagine Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema ever enjoying each other’s company unless ordered to do so as part of a David-Brent-style team-bonding exercise.
Of course, it may be that tax issues and paternal pushiness causes Neymar to seek out the delights of Manchester in the near future. Yet his smile is one of the most expressive possible and when he plays with Messi and Suarez, he beams.

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