Is Lionel Messi's Barcelona Form a Worry for Argentina's World Cup Hopes?

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Is Lionel Messi's Barcelona Form a Worry for Argentina's World Cup Hopes?
Vadim Ghirda

For the first time since the dawn of his professional career, Lionel Messi is suffering a sustained dip in form for his club side Barcelona.

At this stage, the reasons behind this drop in performance levels are a mystery, but in all likelihood, Argentina fans need not worry about their captain's ability to guide their team into the latter stages of the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.

To start with, it is necessary to point out that what counts as a loss of form for Messi is something very different from what the average player would consider a loss of form.

The Argentine is still creating chances, jinking past defenders and even scoring goals; he is just doing it with less frequency than what we are accustomed to.

It is less than a month since he completed a hat-trick against Real Madrid to put Barcelona in good shape to defend their La Liga title. 

A listless display against Atletico Madrid in their Champions League quarter-final second-leg clash on April 9, which saw Barcelona bow out of that competition, was the first of a string of poor showings from both La Pulga and the Catalan club.

A loss against Granada in the league was followed by a third defeat in a row, against arch-rivals Real in the Copa del Rey final. Messi appeared lethargic and uninterested throughout most of those games before finally getting back on the scoresheet against Bilbao, thanks to a blasted free-kick.

Not since the darker days of Messi's national team career, when managers Alfio Basile and Diego Maradona failed to integrate him effectively into the side, has he looked so unhappy on the pitch.

Though there is speculation as to why the four-time Ballon D'Or winner has lost the spring in his step in recent weeks, nobody except those close to him can know the truth.

Is he unhappy at Gerardo Martino's methodology and tactics, and therefore struggling to express himself on the pitch?

Is he simply exhausted after an injury-interrupted season?

Or has the Rosario-born player decided to prioritise the World Cup over everything else this year, taking his foot off the accelerator toward the end of the club season in order to prevent injury and lessen fatigue ahead of the big show in June and July?

These are perhaps the three most likely reasons for Messi's recent lack of sparkle.

It is doubtful that, at age 26, he is a footballer in decline. Perhaps there is some other personal issue at play, but it is nearly impossible to ruminate on such issues without delving into pure guesswork.

If any of the cases above are true, then the No. 10 can be expected to be back to his best by the time the World Cup rolls around.

Since Alejandro Sabella took charge of Argentina, Messi has looked comfortable with the overall setup, his teammates and his responsibilities.

The pragmatic coach has stressed time and time again that his captain is also the talisman of the side, and that he would do everything to ensure he is able to produce his best. Therefore, if Messi harbours any discontent about the situation at Barca, it will soon be forgotten once he is back in the Argentina squad.

If he is tired and jaded, there is enough time to rediscover his zeal before the Albicelestes' first group game against Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 15.

And should this late-season slump be a result of Messi saving himself for the World Cup, Barcelona fans may have reason to be aggrieved, but it can only be a good thing for Argentina.

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Such an attitude would be entirely understandable from a man who has achieved absolutely everything at club level but is yet to reach any such heights for his national team.

Messi has perhaps two or three World Cups left in his career in which to make his mark. He knows that no matter what he has achieved for Barcelona, his record for Argentina will be a factor in how he is ultimately compared to the other great players throughout the history of football.

He is surely prepared to give his all in Brazil.

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