Lionel Messi Set to Have the Most Pivotal Season of His Football Career

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2013

BANGKOK, THAILAND - AUGUST 07:  Lionel Messi #10 of Barcelona makes a break against Thailand XI during the international friendly match between Thailand XI and FC Barcelona at Rajamangala Stadium on August 7, 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Don't worry, Lionel Messi. All you need to do in 2013/14 is form a strong partnership with Neymar, win the Champions League and La Liga with Barcelona and lead Argentina to the World Cup. No pressure, man.

This is arguably the most important year in Messi's illustrious career to date. There is so much that hinges on the Argentinian forward that it may even be too much for the best player of his generation.

Everybody saw how much he meant to Barcelona last season. Tito Vilanova was forced to play his star forward even as the player was struggling for fitness. With Messi less than 100 percent, Barcelona looked limp in their Champions League semifinal exit at the hands of Bayern Munich.

As Xavi and Andres Iniesta continue to age, more and more pressure will be heaped upon Messi's shoulders.

Of course, there's Barcelona's purchase of Neymar. It's a move that had long been rumoured, but the Catalan club finally pulled the trigger this summer, to the tune of €57 million. His unveiling was attended by a packed Camp Nou, courtesy of Barcelona's Instagram account.

If you're playing Football Manager or FIFA, this would be a tremendous move and bring guaranteed success.

In the real world, it will be interesting to see how well Messi and Neymar work together. The two are used to being the alpha males. Messi is going to have to cede a little bit to Neymar, and vice versa.

It's easy for both players to say in preseason that everything will be fine. Once the matches start, it could be a very different story. Johan Cruyff has already voiced his doubts about the situation and believes that Barca should look to move Messi on now that Neymar is in the squad.

For as much as fans want to label Messi a humble superstar, he had a lot of trouble when having to share the spotlight with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Messi eventually won out, and Ibra had some choice words for both he and Pep Guardiola regarding why it didn't work out.

The fact is, Messi wouldn't be the best player in the world if he wasn't somewhat selfish. He's the one who wants to take free kicks and penalties and be the first option in the attack.

Regarding Neymar, Messi will have to give up some of his influence. The Argentinian will still be the leader in the attack, just not as much as he has been in the past.

If the two players can connect well, Barcelona will have one of the best attacks in the world. They'll still have some issues at the back, but they'll have more than enough talent to repeat as league champions and conquer Europe again.

As if that's not enough for Messi to worry about, he's also got the World Cup in less than a year's time.

There are plenty of fans back home who criticize him for being two different players, failing to recreate his Barcelona form on national-team duty.

If there was ever a World Cup for Messi to win, it's the 2014 edition in Brazil.

He's in the prime of his career, and by the time the 2018 World Cup comes around, he'll be 31 years old. Nobody knows how well Messi will be able to transition his game as he begins to lose a step. By then, Argentina could also have found a new emerging talent to take over the team.

Up to this point, Messi has gotten a bit of a pass regarding Argentina's failures in the World Cup. In 2006, he was still just 19 years old and nowhere near the player that he is now. Three years ago, Diego Maradona was the manager and brought absolutely nothing to the squad in terms of a tactical plan. He could have coached the 1970 Brazil team to a quarterfinal exit.

Alejandro Sabella now has Argentina atop the qualifying group in CONMEBOL and brought some stability to the squad.

Having been handed the captain's armband, Messi will be out of excuses in 2014.

His legacy hinges on bringing success to the national team. By winning a World Cup, he would finally put an end to all of the arguments that he's not the player that Diego Maradona and Pele were. Until that point, there will be plenty of fans and pundits who aren't swayed by Messi's case, regardless of how many league and European titles Messi wins with Barcelona.

If there was ever a player who could juggle all of these things at once, it's Messi.