It’s hard to imagine Lionel Messi being any better, doing any more, on the pitch than he already has over the last few seasons. Yet in 2013-2014, he’ll face two very different tests, with both Barcelona and Argentina, and both of them have to do with Neymar, in one way or the other.
Messi has played next to big stars before, but there hasn’t been anyone bigger than him since the days of Ronaldinho at the club, someone Neymar is asking the media to not compare to him. Neymar isn’t a better player than Messi, or at least hasn’t shown enough to prove that. Scoring over 100 goals for Santos in Brazil before his 21st birthday isn’t enough to do that.
But Barcelona, in the Messi era, have yet to purchase player for this kind of money, bringing with him these kind of expectations. David Villa was quite expensive, but he was already a proven striker, and people knew more or less what they’ll get out of him. It was one very good debut season, ending in a Champions League title, and painful disappointment shortly afterwards, partially because of injuries.
The last couple of seasons have been kind to Messi personally, but it seems that star of possibly the best football club ever assembled has been the only who hasn’t lost something in the eyes of the public, except for maybe Andres Iniesta. Only one league title and no Champions League final on a team that seemed to lack ingenuity once the threat of Messi was taken care of is almost unacceptable in what Barcelona have become.
Neymar isn’t a signing that takes care of a certain problem. It’s simply something to add to the glory of the club, and to show it pursues the biggest names in the world. It wins elections for club presidents, sells jerseys, and potentially brings back Barcelona to the position in which they’re the most exciting football team to watch in the world.
But it’ll also be about Messi not falling into the stigma that says he doesn’t allow certain type of players to shine around him. While he’s always been portrayed as the more team-oriented player when compared with Cristiano Ronaldo, this past season and the decline of David Villa paints a different piece of art, showing Messi as a dominating figure who doesn’t allow strikers to flourish next to him.
So while one of this biggest assignments will be to give up control, and allow Neymar to be all he can be, which is hopefully more than simply being the “next Robinho”, there’s also the World Cup to think of, ending the 2013-2014 season. Messi will be 26 when he arrives with Argentina to Brazil, who expect to win but have a national team that’s been disappointing again and again in their long line of friendly matches.
There, in Rio and Sao Paulo and whatever city the Albicelste will be playing in, it’ll be about beating Neymar, if the two ever come across each other. Not just Neymar, but Brazilian football, its pride, and the ghosts that sometimes haunt Messi and the national team, although in his recent matches, it has looked like the shackles that have burdened him in international matches are gone.
It’s hard to say that Messi need to prove anything to anyone, but it wouldn’t be interesting if there wouldn’t be challenges, even imaginary ones, set forth each and every season. Making a potential future rival continue his path to become maybe the next best player in the world, while hopefully beating him next summer, is what Messi needs to do in the next 12 months.