Friday, 13 April 2012

The novelty of Messi will soon wear off

This is a blog about the feared consequences of success. The 2011/12 season has seen Lionel Messi continue his progress to football’s elite and beyond, and in doing so smash almost every goalscoring record in sight. At 24 he is Barcelona’s most prolific marksman and has left journalists scampering to think of a season in which one player has scored more goals. His success, however, has come at a loss to the other Catalan megastars.

As identified in the previous blog Messi has taken on three new roles: that of centre-forward, penalties and free kicks. These I see as mere additions to his arsenal at the expense of others in the Barcelona team. It’s not as if taking these roles has relieved pressure on others so they can perform greater. It’s Messi stealing their thunder.

Such has been his success after six years of first-team club football is that there are now very few records left to break. One more Ballon D’or and a handful more Champions League goals would see him take the outright record in two very good judges of footballing talent. And he is still in his footballer youth.

For these reasons I cannot hide my concern as to how long fans will continue to be blown away by his headline-grabbing performances. Barcelona are at risk of becoming less known for their tiki taka and more for their one source of unbelievable footballing ferocity.

The legendary status that he holds in the game is so immense that ITV recently broadcast a programme called ‘Lionel Messi: World’s Greatest Player’. He has been analysed as if his contribution to football is already so significant that it deserves to be looked back upon a mere third of the way through his professional career.

Will we start to see Messi run off to celebrate but find his teammates can’t match him for speed and have to celebrate alone? Should Messi do what Ronnie O’Sullivan did at snooker and play with his other limb because the sport was too easy for him?

One possible solution to this boredom of goals is a move to the Premier League where Messi, without his reliable henchmen Andres Iniesta and Xavi, will have to prove his worth on a wet Monday evening against Stoke. Unfortunately for Blackburn, due to Messi’s boyhood club loyalty and the obstacle of raising enough money to create civilisation on the moon, this happening is highly improbable.

Instead, the situation where Barca and Spanish fans in general grow distaste for their countrymen being outshone weekly may develop. It is nigh on impossible for Xavi or Iniesta to win Ballon D’or when their teammate is consistently grabbing backpage headlines and outscoring them by a country mile.

The whole Barcelona team, which comprises a minimum six Spanish national team players every game, is tailored to assist Messi in his pursuit of goals. There may come a time when acknowledgement of their wonderful abilities is not enough and they want recognition in the individual form that Messi absorbs as part and parcel of life.

A radical option for Barcelona to take (which I can hardly contemplate enough to write) is they decide to sell their cosmostar. This would happen come the time when opponents have truly run out of ideas to stop him, his teammates are missing out on fulfilling their goalscoring potential and the media have run out of fresh words to use to describe how brilliant he is. Barca would be compelled to get rid of Messi because of his overperformance.

It could even be argued that Barcelona would be more interesting without Messi. It would certainly give a wide range of players a greater responsibility in attack. But imagining Barcelona without Messi is almost unthinkable as he is becoming at the speed of light what Totti is to Roma and Ferguson to Manchester United: bigger than the club.

One about the future is consistent: Messi will continue to improve and the gap between the importance of him and other players to Barcelona is similarly likely to increase, which leads me to the conclusion that the novelty of Messi will begin to wear off. Soon.

Imperious; photo by boldorak2208 (flickr)

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