Many people are wondering what is going on with Lionel Messi. Back from recurring injury, Barcelona’s stellar performer has fallen below his own very high standards.
Mind you, just about any player in the world would give their right arm for his stats this season—injuries and all. Twelve goals in 14 matches, including four in two Champions League games, hardly seems like the performances of someone on the edge of a crisis—unless of course that someone happens to be La Pulga.
Without a goal in four league games and seemingly lacking those explosive bursts through defences, Messi, for the first time in ages, looks disconnected, out of sorts and almost weary. He is trying to get more involved by coming back for the ball but is invariably coming back too far.
Three muscle injuries in both legs since August have not helped to boost the superstar’s confidence, and even he has admitted on the social network site Weibo, as per Cameron Kilmister of Goal.com, that he is not going through the best of times at the moment.
My contacts at Barca tell me one of the major issues could be a logical preoccupation after suffering injury to the femoral biceps—the muscle that helps the explosive runs. Players will tell you that even when you are cured, you still have pains out of the blue, and it can stop you from giving your all—worried about the consequences.
The only solution to that is to continue playing until the confidence and trust in the strength of his own body returns. But the answer to the question of "what’s the matter with Leo?" differs according to whom you ask.
Coming from the press box, the question demands an immediate answer, but only time will show the improvement. But it’s not just today that concentrates the minds of those of the coaching staff, but also tomorrow. Leo won’t be pushed because, firstly, the side is winning anyway, and secondly, they know he has to get there, not in December, but in March and April when titles are won or lost.
From the dressing room, those that spend their lives looking over Messi have one eye on the past. So does Messi. And not just his comeback for the return against PSG in the Champions League when a "one-legged" Messi sent the French side into panic mode—following a recovery that had been based not so much on the needs of his body but more on the pressure of the schedule.
They also remember that night in Paris, when Henk ten Cate and Frank Rijkaard told a shattered Leo that he would play no part in the 2006 Champions League final against Arsenal. He learnt from that.
Javier Mascherano, as per Inside Spanish Football, is of the opinion that Messi is calculating his energies with the World Cup in mind, although every coach I have spoken to seems to think that is a dangerous game, because you have to be at your peak before the start of a World Cup.
I am not sure that is what he is doing. I sense this is more of a precautionary progression.
One thing’s for certain: Messi will be back and probably quicker than most people think, and then...well, you know the rest. But this time, he will return after having taken a very serious look at his body, not at the calendar.