BARCELONA: As Lionel Messi lay on the Wembley grass, his left hand grasping the Champions League trophy and his right pumping the air, he must have thought there would be many more European glory nights to come.
It was 2011 and Barca had beaten Manchester United 3-1. “No one has given us a hiding like that,” Alex Ferguson said.
They were so much better than the rest that many predicted a decade of European dominance after that mesmerising display. “We have a challenge with Barcelona, we all do,” Ferguson said.
Messi had scored his side’s second. Barcelona bounced in front of the photographers, the club’s name carved into the trophy for a fourth time.
For the 23-year-old Messi at the front, it was a third Champions League triumph in six years.
But there has been only one in the seven seasons since, when Luis Enrique led his 2015 Barca to a brilliant treble.
To make matters worse, arch-rivals Real Madrid have been crowned European champions four times and three times in a row since 2016.
“They have made history and it’s a thorn in our side,” Luis Suarez said.
Messi returns to Wembley to face Tottenham on Wednesday with happy memories but all of this weighing on his shoulders.
For most players, four Champions League titles is unthinkable but for Messi, playing through this era of Barcelona, it feels light.
“It’s time we won the Champions League,” Messi told Catalunya Radio last month.
The club feel it too. Winning La Liga has become more routine than remarkable.
Even last season’s double barely laid a finger on the disappointment of a third straight quarter-final exit, following a collapse at Roma when the Italian side overturned Barca’s 4-1 first leg lead.
STURRIDGE AN EXTRA WEAPON IN LIVERPOOL’S ARMOURY
It was a sight that just a few months ago would have been unthinkable — Liverpool a goal down in a big game, and Mohamed Salah hauled off by Jurgen Klopp.
Klopp got the goal he craved for a 1-1 draw at Chelsea on Saturday that preserved Liverpool’s unbeaten Premier League start, not via Salah’s immediate replacement Xherdan Shaqiri, but another late substitute, Daniel Sturridge.
A reborn Sturridge is now Liverpool’s joint top scorer so far this season with four goals despite remaining behind Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane in Klopp’s pecking order.
That he has remained there to be counted on at all, though, is a huge boost to Klopp’s quest to both go one step further in the Champions League this season and deliver a first-ever Premier League title, 29 years after they last won the English top flight.
“Thank God he is here,” said Klopp after Sturridge’s sensational dipping effort from outside the box secured a point at Stamford Bridge.
“It would be really unlucky for both sides if he was not. He is in the best shape since we’ve worked together.”
Sturridge has endured an injury-ravaged three years since Klopp took charge.
Farmed out to West Brom in January in a bid to refind his form and fitness, Sturridge’s hamstring went again in his third game and he never scored for the Baggies as they were relegated.
“He was always a bit unlucky with injuries and stuff like that. That’s how it is, timing in life is pretty important,” added Klopp. “Now, the timing is perfect. We need him desperately and he is fit.”
Sturridge’s return further strengthens a squad already bolstered by the summer signings of Shaqiri, Naby Keita and Fabinho.
After a frustrating few years, the good times are certainly back for Sturridge.