Lionel Messi: What is the Barcelona Star's Best Position?

Chris PotterCorrespondent IFebruary 28, 2011

On Saturday night, FC Barcelona beat RCD Mallorca 3-0 to increase their La Liga lead to seven points over their fierce rivals Real Madrid CF.

With an irreproachable 67 points from 25 matches and a goal difference of plus-63, it seems hard to understand how first-team coach Pep Guardiola could feel stressed. 

But his touchline behaviour after his team's 3-1 win over Villarreal back in November showed that the tension he feels in his job is palpable, according to La Liga expert Guillem Balague.

Others in the media have noticed that his demeanour towards them is colder and more haughty.'s Ivan Matusevich accuses the media of stupidities, of trying to find "miserable subterfuges" through which to personally attack a man he describes as ''intachable'' (impeccable) in his regular column.

And while the Spanish media is less intrusive than the British, this opinion is not without substance. 

Since that night, however, Barca has only dropped two points in the league and Guardiola stands a realistic chance of landing a second treble in three years.

Instrumental to this achievement have been the team's Three Musketeers, their own "MVP:" Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez have scored 56 league goals between them and 80 in all competitions.

Messi leads the way with 39 goals and 19 assists in 3,428 minutes' playing time. This means that he is involved in a goal every 59 minutes—an astounding statistic.  

Nevertheless, Barcelona's strength under Guardiola has always been as a team unit. This is impressive in any situation in any sport where there is a player who is peerless.

In this respect, it could be argued that Barca's achievement is similar to that which transpired in Chicago in the 1990s, the ''three-peat'' era of Michael Jordan.

Jordan had a similar advantage over Messi in terms of his attitude, hunger and skill. Just as importantly, he found himself a perfect environment in which not only to become the greatest basketball player of all time but in which he could become a winner and create a winning culture. He could not have become the face of world basketball without his supporting cast of Tony Kukoc, Scottie Pippen et al.

Likewise, it is through the hard work and team ethos of defenders Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, midfield generals Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez and marauding frontmen Pedro and Villa that Messi can help propel the Catalans to such heights.

It is the fluidity of the team's formation, their understanding of each other as footballers and the Dumasian ''One for All and All for One'' fighting spirit, which are the most important ingredients to the Guardiola-inspired evolution. 

As the Blaugrana lined up against Mallorca at the weekend, British satellite TV channel Sky Sports predicted that Messi would lead the line, with Villa supporting him from left wing and Pedro taking up his attacking position on the opposite side of the pitch.

While each player probably spent slightly more time in these geographical locations than anywhere else, all three popped up in numerous positions and were interchangeable throughout the 90 minutes.

So while, with halftime approaching, Messi made a perfectly timed run through the middle to head Seydou Keita's intuitive lob over onrushing goalkeeper Dudu Aouate, it was David Villa—supposedly on the left wing—who obliged in the 57th minute with a perfectly timed run to round Aouate and slide the football into an empty net, a prefect tribute to a Xavi-esque, defence-splitting pass from Sergio Busquets.

Less than 10 minutes later, Pedro collected the ball on the left touchline (remember he should theoretically on the right-hand cathetus of the team's attacking triangle), surged infield and walloped a concluding third goal into the far corner from 20 yards.

It is this blatant disregard of traditional, black-and-white football tactics which allows the team to continue to surprise opponents who desperately study readily-available footage of the Spanish champions to seek out potential flaws.

With Krkic, Pedro and Villa all capable of playing anywhere along the front line and another versatile star, new Dutch signing Ibrahim Afellay, ready for recognition and stardom, it would really be foolish to exaggerate Messi's worth to the team and especially to categorise him as either a forward or a playmaker.

For he is both, he is whatever he needs to be depending on what the team needs him for at any given moment. 

While Messi may be in line for several more footballing Oscars, the contributions of the director and supporting actors have not gone unnoticed.

But most importantly of all, the success of this era boils down to the fact that the players who have stepped onto the pitch have had the gumption to write the perfect scripts. 


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