Leo Messi is the topic of conversation of everyone in the pub these days. And in the media.
What’s happening to him? And in truth, what’s wrong? And what about the reported episodes of vomiting we are hearing about courtesy of The Independent?
According to my information, he is passing as well as usual (85.1 percent completion rate four years ago and now 83.1 percent), he has the same number of shots (3.47 to 3.67) and does more or less the same number of explosive runs into the area as usual (about five per game).
Cristiano Ronaldo has needed 173 shots to score 24 goals, whereas Messi has scored 15 goals in the league, with less shots than the Portuguese player, some 101. His effectiveness, almost equal to an in-form Ronaldo, is still extraordinary.
It’s just that these days he is running less than he used to, two kilometres per game in fact.
The psychological blow of his last injury, his age (26) and a more personalised approach to his training regime are linked to this statistic. But there is something much more important that is being forgotten.
Messi is running less than before because he is being relied on less than he used to be; he is touching the ball less than he did during the Pep Guardiola era (68.4 passes per game during the 2010-11 season compared to 53.5 this time around) and is receiving fewer passes from his team-mates during 90 minutes of a game (66.3 then compared to 51.1).
The team is playing more down the wings, away from the influential area of Messi. The full-backs are joining up with the wingers because they are not making the diagonal runs they used to in the past to create the space in the middle, which Messi would utilise to make use of his skillful one-twos and wall passes.
In the past, he had better players to do that than, say, Alexis. This way, Messi, without receiving the ball, finds himself out of the game, and his mind switches off out of frustration, and he has to track back in order to participate. Barcelona are keeping the ball away from their major star.
As far as the vomiting is concerned, I mentioned in my book Messi that this often happened to him before games, or at times of tension.
One of the keys to understanding his mentality is to understand that he has a very low emotional threshold, and consequently this means he is affected less by pressure and criticism.
This helps him come out on to the pitch in a more liberated state of mind. But at times, this creates its own problems; this mental block translates into displays of vomiting.
It has been said that Paris Saint-Germain are keeping a close eye on negotiations between him and Barcelona according to John Drayton of the Daily Mail. Manchester City are out of the question, they are not going to spend £200 million on him.
According to my sources, the latest offer from the Nou Camp club, that would see him earn less globally than before, has attracted their attention.
Not since the time Inter were on the point of convincing him to sign, a deal that was eventually stopped thanks to the intervention of former Barcelona president Joan Laporta, as reported by ESPN, has his future been more confused.
One thing is for sure. He needs the ball back.