He’s a three time Ballon d’Or award winner, three time La Liga player of the year and is beginning to break footballing records on an almost weekly basis, and he is only 24. But for Barcelona is there a dark side to having the talents of Lionel Messi?
This current Barcelona team is indisputably one of the greatest sides of the modern game but despite possessing the likes of Iniesta, Xavi and David Villa, they are in danger of acquiring the legacy as the ‘team that had Lionel Messi’.
When watching Barcelona, it’s vaguely reminiscent of the junior football team that would consist of 10 lads all with ‘two left feet’ and that one gem who parents scream at the others to pass to. Messi is that kid.
Coach Pep Guardiola has selected Messi in almost every one of Barcelona’s league games this season, and he has in turn repaid the favour by scoring 50 league goals, and a world record 72 goals in all competitions. Whilst being Messi’s most fruitful season in terms of performance, it is Barcelona’s least successful in recent times. Finishing second best to fierce rivals Real Madrid in the league and knocked out by a rejuvenated Chelsea side in the Champions League semi-final.
They now have only a Spanish Super Cup and potential Copa Del Rey triumph to show for their domestic exploits. The club has also already won the European Super Cup and Club World Championship, but in all honesty they are not sufficient replacements for a league title or Champions League trophy lost.
Is it that Messi has carried this team then? Are we right to say that this Barcelona squad is in essence just Messi and 10 ‘others’? It has certainly been the ‘Messi show’ in Europe this year, yet this squad has been falling unpredictably short.
During recent key games, Messi hasn’t been particularly impressive and all games saw Barcelona put in a performance that certainly lacked their usual flair. It is rare and very difficult for any team to dominate European football. It is the reason only eight teams have ever won the European Cup in consecutive years in the competitions 57 year history and none since the reformatting of the tournament in 1992. In terms of history this may just prove that for the time being, this group of players is just a bit short of being the world’s greatest ever.
Nobody could complain about a lack of goals in the team, the issue is that other than Messi only two others players have so far reached double figures in the league. He has been responsible for 44.6% of the team’s league goals this season. David Villa has found himself the victim of injuries although still only managed five goals in 15 league appearances, paltry return from one of Europe’s top centre forwards. Messi even has the most league assists for the team with 16. However the pass masters Xavi and Iniesta have just 15 between them.
To infer that a football squad is a one man team is for the most part ignorant. A football team will still need players to win the ball, pass the ball, cross the ball and win free kicks and penalties. It doesn’t matter how well Messi plays, he still needs the likes of Mascherano to win the ball, Xavi and Iniesta to pass him the ball, Sanchez to cross the ball and Busquets to win free kicks and penalties.
Perhaps Guardiola’s presence is the reason for Messi’s stunning performances. Under Pep, Messi managed to score 210 times in 217 games. So now that Guardiola is to step down it gives everyone the chance to see the real impact the Spaniard had on Messi and the club as a whole. Will Messi be able to repeat such form under the guidance of managerial novice Tito Vilanova? Messi looked an incredibly distraught man as the farewell festivities began after Guardiola’s last home game as boss of the Catalan giants.
Even so does this team even deserve to be left ‘blowin’ in the wind’ as Messi rides ahead?
It is no coincidence that the re-emergence of a Barcelona side as a true world force has come at a time when the Spanish national side has finally achieved its potential? The 2010 World Cup and even 2008 European Championship teams will surely be recognised as one of the greatest international squads in history. Although when thinking of those teams rather than immediately pick out a particular player, it’s the astute organisation of the backline, unbelievable ability to pick out a pass from midfield and a blessed shooting ability from the team’s forwards that comes to mind. Seven Barcelona players were in the starting 11 for Spain’s victory in the FIFA World Cup final over Holland, with Iniesta scoring the winning goal.
Argentina and Lionel Messi however fell way short, and under the eclectic management of footballing legend Diego Maradona were knocked out at the quarter final stage in emphatic fashion, losing 4-0 to Germany’s ‘young guns’. A year later in the Copa America, Argentina once again fell short, and major success at a national level still continues to elude the Argentine magician.
Messi’s impressive performances this season have cast a shadow over some shoddy displays by Barcelona players. They will still pass the ball around but will sometimes lack any conviction; the team were clearly devoid of ideas when searching for a way through the banks of Chelsea resistance. Guardiola admitted that he had no ‘Plan B’ to get past Chelsea, therefore what is ‘Plan A’? Get the ball to Messi?
Last season, this team beat Real Madrid at home in the league 5-0 putting a huge dagger into the ego of Jose Mourinho. This season they lost their home league game against Madrid and in the process conceded the league to their mortal enemies . Albeit they did manage to knock them out of the Copa Del Rey and beat them to win the Spanish Super Cup. Although, Madrid had still managed to edge Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final last season, earning Mourinho’s first piece of silverware at the club, but supremacy in the league is what they both really want.
And so looking ahead 20 years from now, it is not preposterous that this Barcelona side, full of World Cup winners could be known not for the slick passing between central midfielders or for the many attack minded players willing to drive forward and gladly sit in possession but for one Messi. Meaning impressive talents like Iniesta, Fabregas and Xavi may well find themselves left in the shadow of the Argentinian, but could it be darkness worth enduring? As accolades predictably continue to roll in as seasons with the sensational talent pass by.