Lionel Messi’s opening performances for Barcelona this season suggest that the Catalans will again depend heavily on their ethereal No. 10 to deliver results and silverware.
While many supporters grew frustrated with Barcelona’s dependence on Messi last term, the man is comfortable, and indeed thrives in this environment.
Undoubtedly Barcelona must find ways to win without his genius and perhaps Neymar’s clutch header against Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup hints at good things to come.
Ultimately football remains a game of eleven players, not one.
However, while Barcelona must seek to rid themselves of “Messidependencia,” the Argentine is capable of living up to the loftiest of expectations.
Thrice Messi struck against Valencia last Sunday to win his side a crucial three points away from home. His numbers in two La Liga starts already read more than impressively.
Lionel Messi #LaLiga 13/14: 2 starts, 5 goals, 1 assist, 11 dribbles, 11 shots on target (73.3%), 114 passes (85.1%).— Kieran S. (@palabrasBarca) September 5, 2013
Each year “La Pulga” seems to manage the impossible and elevate his game, particularly when his team most needs it.
Carrying a hamstring injury, the Argentine lifted his side in a substitute performance last season to turn the tide against Paris Saint-Germain and take Barcelona to the Champions League semi-finals.
Despite the incredible quality Barca has on their books, Gerard Pique aptly explained to ESPN that Messi “changes everything”.
Messi’s mere presence can send a buzz throughout the Camp Nou. The Blaugrana are not the same team without him.
Barcelona’s No. 10 possesses an alien ability with a football, but his immeasurable influence is owed to his strength of character and incredible desire to win.
Messi’s competitiveness is clear. He wants be on the pitch whenever he can and looks decidedly uncomfortable when asked to sit on the bench.
When Argentina were knocked out of the 2010 World Cup, Diego Maradona, his then coach, remarked that “all you could hear was Messi crying, only Messi”.
The greatest pressure Messi shoulders is that which he puts on himself.
Inconsolable when he loses, obsessed with winning. That is what is driving the man they call “La Pulga” into the annals of football history.
In today’s game, however, more than ever, the highest levels of competition require more than simply having the best players or playing the best football.
If new Barcelona boss Gerardo “Tata” Martino can find ways to lift the burden off Messi’s shoulders and share it around the team, he increases his chances of silverware in his first season.
Perhaps the best illustration of an overburdened Messi is his time with the national team. At the 2010 World Cup, Diego Maradona showed the height of his incompetence as a manager, placing the weight of the world on his 23-year-old star. A much-improved 26-year-old Messi would still struggle in Maradona’s system, which had “La Pulga” often picking the ball up off his central defenders and taking it to the opposition goal.
Argentina now has a new boss, Alejandro Sabella, the man who was called “The Magician” as a player. Now, he is working magic as a manager.
If Barcelona and Argentina can balance dependence on Messi with recognition of the fact that he cannot do it all alone, then perhaps a Champions League and World Cup double beckons for the four-time Ballon D’Or winner in 2014.
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