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Marco Werman: Football news now, European-style first, as in soccer. Barcelona striker Lionel Messi is already a superstar, but his legacy is sure to inflate even more after an amazing performance last night. Meanwhile, here in Boston it’s all about DeflateGate. It seems New England Patriot’s Tom Brady might’ve known about underinflated footballs used during a January playoff game. I got in touch with our friend, Roger Bennett, one half of the duo Men in Blazers, the soccer show on NBC Sports, and I asked him what he thinks about Brady and DeflateGate.
Roger Bennett: Well, I think in England we call it what it is, which is soft balls. But watching Tom Brady play last season, the honest truth was he would’ve won the game handily with soft balls, hard balls, whatever he was playing with. The big question is whether this is actually going to tarnish his reputation.
Werman: So, if you woke up this morning feeling so great for Lionel Messi, did you feel bad for Tom Brady? He’s going to have some explaining to do.
Bennett: I will say, comparing my life Tom Brady’s, even on his darkest day, there’s not a day that I would feel sorry for Tom Brady. But yesterday, for me, was all about Lionel Messi and what he did for Barcelona against Bayern Munich in the Champions League.
Werman: Yeah, let’s talk about that. Tell us what actually Lionel Messi did in this match.
Bennett: Lionel Messi, five-foot-seven and change, he is possibly the most unassuming global superstar. His skills are from another planet. His haircut is definitely from Supercuts. He’s a very odd player to watch. But yesterday, he took on Bayern Munich, the German superpower, with his Barcelona teammates in a game which was--and I know Americans believe there’s not enough scoring in football--it was 0-0, deep into the second half. But in the 77th minute, it was as if Messi just snapped and lost patience, and on the edge of the area he just spanked the ball, smacking it past the German goalkeeper, Manuel Neur, who is a model of teutonic wonder.
Werman: Yeah, that was pretty something. But then the second goal he scores...
Bennett: If the first goal was kind of a physical moment of wonder, this was a goal of magic softness and beauty. He got the ball inside the box, facing up to a World Cup-winning defender, Jerome Boateng”¦
[Excerpt from audio commentary of soccer match]
Bennett: In the NBA, you call it breaking ankles. But it was more than breaking ankles. He made a World Cup winner tumble to the floor like a falling oak. It was as if he whispered in his ear a soft piece of witchcraft and made this giant man, who seemed to tower over him and block his way, just tip slowly over softly to the turf, and then he chipped the ball over this great goalkeeper, the giant Manuel Neur. The ball softly swept over his head and you were finished there with elite footballers on their backs, knocked out by this tiny, little magician.
Werman: I love the way you talk about soccer, Roger. It’s just so fun to listen to. So finally, with Messi going galactic and Tom Brady deflating, does this balance the sports world out on both sides of the Atlantic now?
Bennett: Yeah, I think there’s probably a balancing of the “˜ol ying and the “˜ol yang. But I imagine if Tom Brady was watching yesterday, even he would’ve felt cosmically better. The great Uruguayan poet, deceased this year, Eduardo Galeano, described Messi beautifully. He said, “Diego Maradona kept the ball tight to his feet. But when I watch Messi, I realize that he keeps the ball inside his shoe,” and we saw that last night.
Werman: Although, scientifically I bet if that ball were slightly deflated, he might have it even tighter inside his shoe.
Bennett: I’m sure if the two of them do get together, Brady and Lionel Messi can work on that.
Werman: Roger Bennett, one half of the NBC Sports show and podcast Men in Blazers. Great to speak with you again, Roger.
Bennett: Always great to be with you. Thanks for having me on.
Werman: And that’s The World on this thursday. From our studios here in WGBH in Boston, I’m Marco Werman. We’ll be back with you tomorrow.