All Is Not Well with Lionel Messi, but Let's Just Enjoy His Brilliance

Guillem Balague@@GuillemBalagueFeatured ColumnistNovember 25, 2014


It was only ever going to be a matter of time before Lionel Messi beat the 59-year-old La Liga goalscoring record held by Telmo Zarra.

Unfortunately, what should have been one of his finest hours has been clouded by all manner of stories circulating, including one from Marca's Jose Felix Diaz, that all is not well with the Argentine maestro.

The talk among the chattering classes is that he is not as committed and as dedicated to Barcelona as he has been in the past. That he doesn’t run as much, that his vomiting suggest a bigger problem, that he seems taciturn, that he shouldn’t be considered for the Ballon d’Or.

Notice how little emphasis is in the positive. Has the world got tired of Messi?

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates  after scoring his team's fourth goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Sevilla FC at Camp Nou on November 22, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. Lionel Messi beat the record
David Ramos/Getty Images

But dedication and commitment is a two-way street. So when he says that while he would like to spend all his career at Barcelona but things don’t always work out the way you want them to, you sense that goals or no goals, record or no record, Leo Messi is sending out a message. He is savvy enough to know what to say and how to say it for people to listen.

At the moment he has made it quite clear that he is not a happy bunny, and although that’s still a long way from saying that he will be leaving sooner rather than later, he is also kind of saying that Barcelona and Leo Messi are not joined at the hip and that he will not necessarily be staying at the club forever.

Barcelona have considered selling Messi in the last two seasons according to Spanish football expert Graham Hunter, and Messi knows about it. And if he is not wanted, he will go.

He got another contract, so the board finally abandoned that idea. But there is another reason to leave: The team is in decline, and it doesn’t seem like a year where all that will change. Instead we seem to be witnessing a transitional period towards a new Barcelona. And if the team is not competitive, they will not win many trophies. And Messi wants to win.

Since Joan Laporta stopped Messi going to Inter as an 18-year-old (the Italians offered a massive contract that Barcelona couldn’t match), since that day when the then-president of Barcelona said, “You might get the money at Inter, but you will have love and glory with us,” Messi has not really been close to leaving Barcelona.

At the moment, we are facing a situation where his future is becoming as doubtful as back then. Will he go? Nobody can say yet, but nobody can’t say categorically that he will stay at the club the whole of his career.

But then, all of a sudden he beats another record and then, yet again, we remember how privileged we are to share a time when Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have taken the human boundaries in football to a new level.

Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

For many years I have heard Ossie Ardiles, who knows Leo and his family very well, say that for everything to be well around Messi, he has to be happy with his surroundings.

Everything has to be harmonious, and it certainly isn’t at the moment.

Let’s start with the new board that used to be headed by the now-departed Sandro Rosell.

Since their appointment, the team has become less competitive and players dropping from their peak—Xavi, for example—have not been adequately replaced. There is no real alternative to Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, it took forever to sort out the centre-back crisis, and these days Barcelona are effectively two teams in one squad; one that looks to a fast, direct type of attack and another that prefers to play the passing, possession-based game.

The team, which passes the ball less with midfielders that score less and assist less than ever, is getting away from what made Messi special.

The board has set about a number of strange signings which, pending an appeal, is something they won’t be able to do for the next couple of windows because of a ban following alleged transgressions with the signing of young players for their academy.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 20:  Neymar (L) and Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona  share a joke during a training session ahead of their UEFA Champions League Group F match against AFC Ajax at Ciutat Esportiva on October 20, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by
David Ramos/Getty Images

Messi would have welcomed the chance to play with someone like Gonzalo Higuain or Sergio Aguero, but instead it was decided to bring in Luis Suarez: Like with Neymar, one question arose—great player, great goalscorer, but what is the football idea behind their signings?

Barcelona is becoming a team of strikers. The front three have been involved in 41 of the 43 goals scored this season, with Suarez creating four assists so far, while we wait for his first goal.

There’s no question that they will score a lot of goals and win a lot of games. My doubt is, however, whether the team will be structured in such a way where they can win the really big games. I am just not sure that, the way they are playing, they will be able to have enough of the ball to control games in the way they used to.

Away from the pitch, things have been strained. There seems to have been a kind of whispering campaign over the last couple of years that questions everything Messi does, his general health and, most recently, the taxation problems he has faced.

Make no mistake, if he has done wrong, he must and he will pay. He is not, however, the first Spanish footballer or sportsman to fall foul of the revenue, and the level of publicity devoted to Messi on this matter is far in excess of that heaped on similar cases. It is quite clear that he is being used as an example.

So, yes, Messi left a new message directed to the board. And things are not harmonious. But for the time being, let’s enjoy the moment that sees Leo Messi as the highest goalscorer in the history of La Liga with 253 goals.

Long may he continue to thrill us—hopefully in the Spanish league.