Lionel Messi is a four time Ballon d’Or winner and one of the greatest players to ever play the game (some people even go as far as calling him the outright greatest). A multiple Champions league winner, European golden boot winner, and the current face of Argentinian football.
Over the last twelve months though, fans have lamented about a decline in the form of the Barcelona talisman. People claim the goals have dried up and the electric runs are seemingly missing from the Argentine’s play. Barcelona went trophy-less last season and some fans even dared to blame it on Messi’s inability to electrify the side. All those insinuations could not be farther from the truth as Messi is still as phenomenal as his was in 2011 when he was seemingly unplayable. There are five major reasons why Lionel Messi is being accused of a drop in his performances and here they are
- His teammates’ inability to step up
Last year, Messi was plagued by injuries and when that happens to a player, any player, he would need some time to recover and get back to his normal form. Barcelona didn’t just fail in the fact that they rushed him back from a couple of injuries but his teammates were unable to make any relevant impact on the pitch whenever he was absent. A classic example would be Barcelona’s champions league clash with PSG: It took a half fit Messi to come on and make an assist if not a team that boasted Pique, Iniesta, Pedro and Xavi would otherwise have been incapable of finding the net and would have been knocked out of the champions league. This is not the case in Argentine where the likes of Aguero, Lavessi and Di Maria are willing to step up and live up to their reputations and not hide in Messi’s shadow. Hence, an impressive run to the final of the world cup and Lionel Messi with less weight on his shoulders, danced past defenders, knocked balls into the corners of nets and was named player of the tournament.
This goes without saying: I sincerely doubt Lionel Messi knows the feel of the Camp Nou bench because since 2009, when Messi became a global phenomenon, he has barely been rested by any Barcelona manager, Tito Villanova, had the record of playing Messi whenever the Argentine was fit whether the match was important or not. Some fans have argued that Messi made the call to play whenever he was fit and there was nothing Villanova could do about it but I don’t believe that because somewhere in a professional footballer’s contract he signs and agrees to abide by the decisions of his manager and his manager should be responsible enough to know when his player needs to rest and give him that rest. In many matches, Messi looked tired, not out of form, just tired. Tata Martino was the only manager brave enough to rest Messi, and whenever he did, Messi’s Barcelona teammates just didn’t step up. Let us also not forget that while Players like Robben, Ronaldo, Ribery and Iniesta are European and have little traveling to do for international matches, Messi has to travel across the globe to play 90 minutes at a higher altitude (which means less oxygen and that mean the player must exert himself more) before jetting back to play another 90 minutes for Barcelona who did not care that their number 10 was jet-lagged.
- The Neymar Factor
While other players have failed to step up, Neymar has stepped up brilliantly for Barcelona, playing well and scoring goals, seemingly for fun. The problem with this is that the fans are not realizing that Messi is still scoring goals and playing great football. Messi has scored 15 goals and assisted 9 in 21 matches this season. That is a fantastic return for ANY player. Yes, one may argue that it is not as many goals as we are used to seeing Messi score but let us not forget the 9 assists, 6 of which have been for Neymar. This just goes to show that if someone else is willing to score, Messi would pass the ball and Neymar is willing to score. Fans are so used to Messi being the only goal scorer for Barcelona that when someone else is scoring as often as Messi is, we feel Messi has declined and we have elevated the Argentine to an almost god-like status that we cannot fathom another player (in this case, Neymar) being as good and the only logical explanation is that Messi’s form has declined. Well there is another explanation and it is simple: Neymar is a good footballer and he is proving so at Barcelona week in week out and Messi is helping him do so on a regular basis but not at the expense of himself. Saying Messi is not as good as he used to be is like saying Hazard is not as good as he was last season because Fabregas and Costa have come in and are actually doing their jobs at Chelsea.
This is quite simple, fans want to see Messi dribble past defenders and try out audacious moves. The truth is this: Messi is a more mature player now, and he plays less to the gallery. This means, he dribbles only when necessary and he is less self-obsessed, so rather than shooting from distance often, Messi would rather pass to players in better positions. Di Maria was a grateful recipient of this at the World cup and unlike his teammates who just expect Messi to magically put the ball into the net whenever he is with the ball, Neymar actually keeps going and ends up in good positions and whenever he is in those positions, Messi gives the ball to him and he scores. This in no way diminishes Messi’s ability. In fact, it makes him a more complete footballer and a more efficient leader.
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s current form
Messi and Ronaldo have been each other’s only competition for the past 7 years and for the better part of those seven years, Messi had always managed to out-do Ronaldo and remain just ahead of the Portuguese. This season however, the story has been somewhat different; Cristiano Ronaldo has been in the form of his life banging in goals for fun 23 goals in 19 games to be precise assisted another 6 and has been unstoppable. Ronaldo has simply been on another level. Most Messi fans don’t want to admit that the Real Madrid forward has stepped up his game and is playing better than he or his Argentine nemesis have ever played so they hide behind the whole “Messi is not in form” statement. The truth is, Messi is just as good as he has always been but Ronaldo is just on another level this season and Messi’s supporters have to deal with that.
The painful truth is this: Messi is still as good as he has always been, there are just a few players who are equally as good like Neymar and James. Those players are stepping up and we would have to deal with that