Lionel Messi Must Rest Mind and Body to Regain Physical and Mental Fitness

Guillem BalagueFeatured ColumnistNovember 11, 2013

Poor Lionel Messi cut a forlorn figure as he stood there waiting to be substituted during the match against Real Betis this weekend.

For the third time this season, he has seen his hopes dashed by a nagging and extremely painful injury to the biceps femoris, which forms part of the hamstring group on the back of the thigh.

So what is the problem and the prognosis? I spoke to Cesc Fabregas who himself suffered for about 18 months with the same injury which affects the player’s ability to sprint and demonstrate explosive pace—essential components of Messi's game.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 24:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona reacts after missing a chance to score during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad de Futbol at Camp Nou on September 24, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/G
David Ramos/Getty Images

The problem, Cesc tells me, is not merely the injury but the fact that you never really know when you’re better.

Residual scar tissue can provoke a reoccurrence and you’ll feel fine until you experience a sudden burst of pain. Compound that with the fact that while you know you’re feeling pain, the medical team are simultaneously telling you that you’re fine because nothing amiss shows up on the scans.

What Cesc did was try to come back too early. He was young, impetuous, going through a purple patch, thought he knew best and it cost him dear. For 18 months at Arsenal, he struggled to be the player he was and couldn’t be happy.

What he eventually did was get himself his own personal physical trainer and rested, while mind and body recuperated. Messi will have to do exactly the same.

Barcelona have given him a recuperation time of six to eight weeks, half of which will be spent in Barcelona and half in his native Argentina, where he can regain his mental as well as physical fitness.

To say that he is only really focused on the World Cup is not to understand Messi. This is undoubtedly an important World Cup and one that Messi has been focusing since the very early days.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona adjusts his boats during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC at Camp Nou on September 14, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
David Ramos/Getty Images

But the truth is he hasn’t been the same since Barcelona made the decision to play him in the second leg of the Champions League quarter-final match against PSG when the team, the coaches and he himself chose to look at the calendar rather than listen to his body.

He should have rested completely for a month but instead was playing two weeks after the injury. That fateful night he may have won the battle, but subsequent reoccurrences show that he lost the war.

He has already changed his nutritionist and it’s rumoured that Juanjo Brau, who has over the past six or seven years always travelled to Argentina with Messi, will no longer do so.

I don’t believe for a single second, as some are suggesting, that Messi is burnt out. The truth is that the onset of fatherhood, a World Cup on the horizon and new challenges for Barcelona have put extra stress on both him and all the Barcelona personnel.

What’s needed now is a return to the process, initiated by Pep Guardiola five and a half years ago, that shaped the Messi off the pitch in order to make him better on it, including diet, sleep pattern, routine and, above all, rest.

He is, apologies for the insistence, five years older, so he needs to look at how to deal with that now.

Only then will we see, a return to the very best of the genius that is La Pulga.