The Day Rangers Played ‘Anti-Football’ And Left Lionel Messi Raging In Govan!

In 2007, you’d be hard pushed to find a better team out there than FC Barcelona. Just a year earlier the Catalan giants had won the Champions League title.

They had such an array of stars.

They were matched against then Scottish runners-up Rangers during the Champions League group stages in the 2007/08 season.

The first encounter between the two sides that season happened in Glasgow on the 23rd of October.

Barca started that game with Victor Valdes, Lilian Thuram, Eric Abidal, Carles Puyol, Gabriel Milito, Xavi, Eidur  Gudjohnsen, Andres Iniesta, Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho and the one and only Lionel Messi. These were either legends of the game or soon to be legends of the game!

Rangers on the other hand had the likes of Charlie Adam, Nacho Novo, Sasa Papac and Alan Hutton in their ranks to try and stop this mighty Barcelona ensemble.

All in all it should have been a no contest bout with Los Cules winning by a convincing margin.

Veteran Gers manager Walter Smith decided to offer up a contrasting football style to the flamboyance and creativity that Frank Rijkaard’s men regularly used to bamboozle opponents and woo supporters of the beautiful game.

In large parts of the fixture, for the vast majority, Rangers found themselves camped well inside their own half. They allowed Barca plenty of time on the ball as long as it wasn’t in and around the Light Blues penalty area.

Challenges, both fair and unfair, flew in from the Glaswegian side as they attempted to stifle and frustrate their accomplished counterparts. It wasn’t a particularly dirty game though, Gers received three bookings (18 fouls) to Barca’s two (14 fouls). Without any doubt Rangers went with a tactic to keep as many players behind the ball as possible at all times.

Some refer to this method as ‘parking the bus’ but as it was implemented in Glasgow I’d rather say that on that night Rangers built a ship in the Govan yards and placed it firmly in front of their goalposts.

Attacking Barca wasn’t really an option and lone striker Daniel Cousin was more of a battering ram, who’d become the first line of defence. The Gabon international managed to get Rangers only attempt at goal and even that went wide of the mark.

The La Liga superstars did manage to break through on occasion, of course they did just think of that fabulous frontline, but whenever they did fate or luck would then prevent them from scoring.

Spanish central defender Carlos Cuellar hooked a Messi shot off the line, Henry headed a good chance over the bar and Brazilian World Cup winner Ronaldinho managed to strike the crossbar with an effort.

At times there was just Barca onslaught after onslaught. Their bright yellow jerseys flooded into enemy lines but they just couldn’t kill off their determined and disciplined opponents.

When all was said and done, Rangers held on and recorded a famous 0-0 draw and celebrated as if they had won the competition.

Walter Smith and his team came under more heavy fire after the final whistle as pundits and Barcelona players came out criticising the tactics that were used that night.

Chief moaner was a young, naive yet very gifted Lionel Messi. The Argentine was fast becoming one of the world’s best ever footballers and he wasn’t impressed with the style being used against his team at Ibrox:

“It’s incredible. Rangers didn’t want to play football. Right from the start they went for anti-football and I’m left with a bitter taste in the mouth at not having been able to win the match because we had a decent number of chances. All we lacked was the finish.”

“It’s a real pain playing against teams like that and it’s very hard too. It’ll be different at the Camp Nou.”

The term ‘anti-football’ was the one that stuck and that was used in the media headlines. For the record, Barcelona did beat Rangers at the Camp Nou with a 2-0 win, Messi would get some revenge by scoring his side’s second.

Young Lionel didn’t have a right to criticise his opponents after their first meeting. Each team had a game plan that night and the Gers one prevailed. The Argentine magician and his fellow gifted stars don’t have a god given right to win any football match or dictate how the game should be played. It would be such a boring sport if every side played tiki-taka football and the same side won constantly.

If Messi’s claims about a turgid style was meant to embarrass Rangers Football Club, he failed dramatically.

Some clubs like Barcelona, Liverpool and Celtic want to win and secure that victory with an attacking, easy on the eye style. That mindset can actually become detrimental to those specific teams.

Other sides like Real Madrid and Chelsea prefer to just win at all costs. Rangers firmly fall in the win at all costs category. They want a positive result and they don’t mind playing badly to get that desired conclusion.

That night Rangers were drilled to defend and to defend again. It was all about frustrating Barcelona and coming away without losing at home. Those objectives were complete and Walter was happy and certainly wasn’t apologetic.

As a Gers supporter that evening, I can tell you that he was extremely happy and very proud of my team. They stuck to a game plan and managed to nullify such a great opponent. Football for me has always been about results over aesthetically pleasing styles. Would I rather win via an undeserved own goal or lose after bossing all the possession and passing stats? I’d take the sloppy triumph every time. The feeling of gaining something from a win or a hard earned draw should always be better than what you feel in defeat.

Interestingly that same season, Rangers would go all the way to the UEFA Cup final beating the likes of Panathinaikos, Werder Bremen and Fiorentina along the way as Barcelona failed to score in two legs against Manchester United in their Champions League semi-final.

Scottish midfielder Charlie Adam summed it up nicely when he gave his response to Messi criticism:

“We were playing against world-class players,”

¬†“And, no disrespect to any other side but that was perhaps the best team any of us will play against in our entire careers. For us to get a point was an unbelievable achievement and made it a night to savour. We battled away, and showed the attitude needed to get us a really good point.”

What would Lionel Messi give to win the World Cup with Argentina? Would he go a bit negative if it meant he’d captain his nation to that great feat of winning the biggest competition in the world? I bet you he would!

Football is at it’s best when it has different styles going up against each other and you get unpredictable results because of it.

Leave a Reply