Lionel Messi: Does Star Striker Get Enough Credit for His Assist Work?

Dan Talintyre@@dantalintyreSenior Analyst IIJanuary 17, 2013

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 16:  Leo Messi of Barcelona FC displays his four ballons d'or to the audience prior to the Copa del Rey Quarter Final match between Barcelona FC and Malaga CF at Camp Nou on January 16, 2013 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Lionel Messi is the greatest footballer on the planet right now and one of the true greats of all time. There is simply no arguing that.

Yet, in spite of all that he's achieved and all the accolades that are lauded on him, somehow, there's still an area of his game that isn't being given enough credit and recognition.

It seems simply ridiculous that a man who just netted 91 goals in a calendar year and bagged his fourth Ballon d'Or title isn't receiving enough praise—especially when the weight of both of those achievements has been well and truly noted.

But Messi isn't given enough credit when it comes to his assist work.

His goalscoring, his dribbling, his achievements are all praised, but not enough is made of his assist work in the past few seasons for Barcelona.

He might not be the prolific passer that Xavi or Andres Iniesta is at Barcelona, for he simply doesn't touch the ball enough to be mentioned in that category. At least not compared to that pair, anyway.

Yet, considering the touches that he does make on the ball and his assist numbers at the end of that, more should be made of his goal-creating skills.

In 2012-13 alone, Messi has eight assists from his 18 appearances so far in the Spanish domestic competition. That's only three assists behind Andres Iniesta and one behind Cesc Fabregas—both of whom are considered prolific midfield playmakers.

By comparison, Messi has more assists than any player in the Bundesliga and any player in Ligue 1. He has the same assists as the likes of Juan Mata and Steven Gerrard, who top the assist tally in the English Premier League this year.

Only Iniesta, Fabregas and Marek Hamsik of Napoli have more assists than Messi this year—and not by much either. Consider that also with the fact that the Argentinian international has scored double the goals of those three players combined, and his assist work truly becomes even more significant.

The most remarkable thing, perhaps, when it comes to the Catalan star's assist work is that it's been consistent over the past few years.

In both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, no player has consistently produced the same number of assists as Messi has. Real Madrid's midfield maestro Mesut Ozil comes close, but not even he can boast the same numbers as Messi over the past few years.

His record-breaking 91-goal season last year overshadowed what was a very strong passing year for Messi, who topped the Champions League in assists. Not only that, he was second to Ozil alone in assists for La Liga with 16 on the year—nearly double that of Iniesta.

The year before that, he was first in assists throughout La Liga—all whilst scoring an incredible amount of goals in that time also.

You have to think that had he not scored a mountain of goals in the past two-and-a-half seasons, more praise would be lauded on him for his assist work. Yet because of the goals, the passing and work in helping Barcelona achieve greatness has been somewhat pushed to the side.

The table below shows how Messi's key passes (goalscoring chances created) per game has risen with his average passes made per game.

Lionel Messi (2009-2012)

2009/10 1.9 44.3   2009/10 1.9 56.5
2010/11 2.0 67.7   2010/11 1.8 68.8
2011/12 2.5 63   2011/12 2.9 80.9

The Argentinean wizard is doing far more than just chalking up missed shots as assists; he is actively working to create more and more chances for his teammates as he gets the ball more.

His assist-making ability deserves to be praised much more than it has been.

However, the counterargument to that statement does also exist, and it isn't hard to put together from watching Barcelona's tiki-taka style.

If they funnel all their attack through Messi—which they do—and the striker has that many attempts on goal per game—which he does—then of course the assists are going to be high.

And to an extent, the argument there is completely correct. 

Barca do hold on to possession, they do pass their opponents to death and they do look for Messi every single time they're trying to score a goal.

Yet, the argument does ignore a couple of key things—the first being that every team knows the attack funnels through Messi, so they put additional pressure on him. They know he's talented and prolific, so they do everything they can to stop him, and yet he still succeeds.

Secondly, he scored 91 goals last year! In the Champions League and La Liga alone he netted 43 the year before that! No other player has scored that many goals and yet still walked away with an incredibly high assists total to match it.

Part of that is getting the ball at the right time, but Messi still has to create the assist—and usually has to beat three defenders to make it happen. 

He truly is a magnificent assist-worker for Barcelona and deserves to be mentioned alongside the greats in world football as a genuine playmaker. Messi is more than just a striker for this club and deserves to be praised like it.

His brilliance in assist work is always likely to be overshadowed by his goalscoring brilliance, and given what he's achieved, it's understandable why.

Yet, we must not reduce the significance of Messi as a playmaker and as a goal-creating threat, for he continues to prove that he is one of the best in world football.

Xavi? Andrea Pirlo? Mata? Iniesta?

Messi's name has to feature alongside theirs as one of the greatest playmakers currently in world football, as well as being the best striker.

There can be no arguing with that fact either.

Is enough credit given to Lionel Messi's assist work?

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All statistics via WhoScored.com.


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