With the World Cup coming ever closer, the stubbornly uncooperative muscle injury being suffered by Leo Messi at the moment is a timely reminder that it is always necessary to listen to your body.
And that no footballer of his characteristics (explosive pace, change of direction) has played as much as he has without consequences. We don’t know exactly what stops a player getting injured, but we do know that at some point in an athlete's career to stop, rest and analyse is never a bad thing.
The 2014 tournament has been earmarked as the little Argentinian genius’s date with destiny since as far back as March 2003 when FIFA announced that it would be held in South America. At the time he was not yet 16 and there was even the possibility that it would be held in Argentina, although Brazil was eventually chosen in 2007.
Messi wanted to make sure that he was going to be ready for that competition. As a result, he initially refused to sign any contract that would take him past 2013, thereby giving him freedom to move somewhere before the tournament should he feel it necessary to help his international prospects.
Of course, Barcelona were having none of it and the little maestro is now signed, sealed and delivered to the Blaugrana cause until 2018. There is a little matter of €250 million, the buy-out clause to release him from his contract.
But despite the yearly interest of some of the top clubs to sign him (Inter almost did manage, Real Madrid ask regularly), it is expected he will stay at the Camp Nou until it is time to go back to Newell’s Old Boys.
And while many prophets of doom are of the opinion that Messi’s absence through injury—an absence that will probably not see him back this side of the New Year—will severely damage his World Cup prospects, I take exactly the opposite view.
The injury to his biceps femoris, the muscle called into action when players require those sudden bursts of explosive pace, can only, long term, be healed one way—with rest.
In Messi’s case, it is a long overdue rest and a chance to re-analyse the changing body of a 26-year-old superstar for the first time since he was 21.
Interestingly enough, due west, at Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo has also suddenly had to take an unscheduled break after he picked up an "injury" during his club’s 5-0 victory over Almeria.
Some cynics might claim that if he had to take a break with injury, then missing a relatively easy Champions League match against Galatasaray, a league match against lowly Valladolid and a Copa del Rey fixture against Olimpic de Xativa was just about the best possible time to take it.
What was originally a knock has been converted into a mystery injury—that is, a well-deserved rest. The titles are won in May.
Messi, meanwhile, is back in his beloved Argentina with his feet up. Some people are saying his only interest now is in winning the World Cup with Argentina.
They are wrong. Messi desperately wants to win the World Cup—in July. But if Messi has shown us anything over the years, it’s that he wants to win everything, from the World Cup to the Champions League to a practice match in training.
And that it would be contrary to his interest to relax until the end of the season—in fact, with a good number of games from January under his belt, he can find the kind of form he needs to star in the summer.
He was not accepted by his own country until 2012, but now the team revolves around him. Argentina is more of a Real Madrid type of team, fast on the counter, with Messi behind Higuain and Kun Aguero, and with Di Maria helping from the flank.
If Gago, Mascherano and Benega tie up the midfield, the only fear is the quality of the defence where Zabaleta is their most consistent performer. But the team has a feel of a club, of a bunch of guys that has grown together and who will do whatever to make sure their main star performs at his maximum level.
This is, after all, the World Cup Leo Messi has been dreaming of.
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