KEY POINTS

  • Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo first shared the pitch during Manchester United's UEFA Champions League semi-final win over Barcelona in 2008
  • Ex-Red Devils defender Wes Brown was tasked to keep an eye on Messi
  • Brown revealed the "simple tactic" they used to control the Barca star

For a Manchester United legend, the first time Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo faced each other is always a story to tell.

As expected, Messi and Ronaldo are once again presenting a strong case for winning this year’s Ballon d’Or award.

Adding flavor to one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sports, Manchester Evening News revealed Wes Brown’s recollection of the first Messi vs. Ronaldo game in the extracts from the new book written by Manchester United features editor Steve BartramManchester United: Unscripted.”

In it, former Red Devils defender Brown recounted the challenges he encountered in dealing with a 20-year-old Messi on the pitch.

According to Brown, the excitement was unmatched as his Manchester United took on Messi and Barcelona in the 2008 UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the first time.

Brown’s main task was to stop the Argentine magician. An assignment he initially thought would be easy as he has been training and playing against world-class players in England.

However, Brown admitted that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds.

“My job was to stay focused and keep frustrating him [Messi],” Brown said. “Stop him working his magic. Great players like that, that’s all you can do. Frustrate them, try to make them have a bad day, try to make them do things they don’t want to be doing. Try to stop them from doing things they do want to do.”

“That’s not easy, though,” he added.

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo Lionel Messi of Barcelona conducts the ball next to Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid during the La Liga match at Camp Nou stadium, Dec. 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images

At the 14th minute, pressure mounted on Barcelona after Manchester United’s Paul Scholes hit a sensational goal that stunned Messi, who has been described as “standing watching” at the time.

Still, Brown bared that the left-footed attacker carried on with his thing and tried to give Manchester United defenders some headache with his “small” yet “fast” dribbles.

In the end, Brown proudly reckoned that they were well aware of what Messi was “capable of” and the “simple tactic” of always having someone taking on the Barcelona star eventually “got the job done.”

“You do realize, watching Messi, even back then, is that one thing you can’t do is dive in,” he reflected. “His ball control is unbelievable. A joke. We knew what he was capable of. It was a fact of not giving him time, making him know that someone’s always there. Very simple tactic. People think it might be some really complex plan, but it wasn’t.”

“We stayed tight, managed to keep out whatever they threw at us and we all got the job done."