[UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE] As a player, Portland Timbers coach John Spencer never backed down from a tackle, a confrontation, or a scoring opportunity.
Timbers TV analyst Robbie Earle, who like Spencer spent many years in the English League, says of him with some admiration, "There are two things you were guaranteed against Spenny. He’d usually nick a goal against you, and he’d kick you off the ball. He was a right nasty little so-and-so." For the vast majority of smaller players it's how they survive.
Yet Spencer believes in the FIFA campaign for Fair Play, though as a former Chelsea player his suggestions regarding Lionel Messi might be going a bit far.
"The first thing FIFA should do is limit Messi to no more than three touches every time the ball comes to him," said Spencer in advance of the Champions League second leg Tuesday at Camp Nou that Chelsea leads, 1-0. "I think that makes it a more even game.
"To be fair, they talk about everybody else because that guy’s incredible. I’ve never seen old guys like Pele and them guys play, but tell you what, this kid’s probably the best player to ever play the game, I think."
Spencer played in England and Scotland from 1988 to 2000 before finishing his career with Colorado (2001-04). His stint at Chelsea, which began in 1992, ended four years later when then-manager Ruud Gullitfirst loaned and then sold him to Queens Park Rangers. He scored 36 goals for Chelsea, and doesn't think the one it managed at Stamford Bridge will be enough.
"I think they’ve got a deep hole with only one goal to go through in that tie," he says. "Good luck going to Barcelona with a one-goal lead. As teams have found out, if you go to Barcelona with three goals there’s still a good chance you’re going to lose."
His size (5-foot-6) required Spencer to fight and scrap and claw his way into scoring positions, so Messi's reliance on breathtaking moves and immaculate skills is especially fascinating. Messi darts and swerves and glides as bigger and stronger players struggle to contain him.
"To see how he scores some of his goals, by just going by people and then maybe chipping the goalkeeper, or dinking it over him and then blasting it in, it's just incredible," says Spencer. "And he's been doing it it game after game, month after month, season after season. It's really not fair.
"For his size, what he’s doing in the game against unbelievable athletes and the top level and guys who are a lot bigger than him trying to mark him and kick him all over the field and get tight to him all over the field, to do what he does at the size of him is an incredible feat, to be honest."