The Lead

While FIFA engages in a PR war with Brazil over preparations for the 2014 World Cup, Confederation club football tournaments—the Champions League, the CONCACAF Champions League, the Copa Libertadores—seem to be finally overtaking international football in driving the history and development of the global game. To say yesterday offered several memorable examples is an understatement.

Lionel Messi broke the Champions League record by scoring five goals against Bayer Leverkusen. We’ve seen him do things before, and the almost-already-out Leverkusen were hardly vintage European competition in the Camp Nou. But last night felt like the crystallization of something on the tip of our tongue over the last few seasons. Lionel Messi may be the greatest footballer in history. Better than Pele, Garrincha, Maradona. Morever, he may indeed be the best athlete in all global sport (apologies to darts master Phil “the Power” Taylor).

In the Copa Lib, Brazil’s pretender to the throne Neymar notched three of his own against Internacional. He’s now referred to as South America’s “other big star.”

And finally, while Canadian Soccer Association hems and haws about building the national program, 47,000 people packed the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto to watch Toronto FC draw the LA Galaxy 2-2 in the first leg of the CCL quarterfinal. Moreover, the game saw TFC produce one of their best ever performances in the first 20 minutes, before fatigue and LA kicked in (I’ll have a game diary up later today). While Aron Winter fielded an experienced international side, particularly with Torsten Frings commanding the Toronto defence, the image of top flight football on a major competitive stage in our own backyard will certainly play a part in encouraging our own Neymar and Messi wanna-bes to follow an impossible dream.

That’s something no amount of friendlies against Armenia in Cyprus will ever do.

Canada

Beckham mad!

And some TFC CCL match reports here, here, here and here.

Hey Toronto FC fans, the world (or at least a tiny tabloidy chunk of it) was watching.

England

Glen Johnson reignites the Luis Suarez/Evra racism row, for some reason.

Lukas Podolski set for Arsenal move in the summer.

Roberto Mancini wants Robin van Persie to come to City.

Boozers in English football, Jermaine Pennant and Roger Johnson.

Fernando Torres hits a new Chelsea low.

Ryan Taylor signs Newcastle deal.

Tottenham offer Harry Redknapp new deal, £50 million war chest.

Italy

Prandelli extends Italy olive branch to Mario Balotelli.

Juventus might finish season undefeated and without a Scudetto.

Germany

Is Bastian Schweinsteiger on the verge of a return to Bayern?

Bayer Leverkusen’s loss from the other side.

Spain

Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi, Messi.

Bits and bobs

Rangers demise would be “a disaster.”

The Glen Johnson excuse creator.

And that, give or take, is the story so far…