Is Lionel Messi actually making his teams, Barcelona and Argentina from time to time, worse, by simply being out there on the pitch? Is he so good that he hurts the flow of the game? Not necessarily, but there are times that make you wonder about the necessity of such a big star and the downside of having someone so good, who knows he is that good, on your team.
People point to the Argentina – Germany friendly as an example. Messi was held back by Barcelona for a “groin injury”, which set the scene for a tremendous Angel di Maria performance, which included three assists and one goal. Argentina won 4-2, and “avenged” their World Cup Final loss, and also becoming the belt holders and unofficial World Champions, for those who like to treat any sport like it’s a boxing match or the WWE.
A lot of people were angry about Messi winning the World Cup MVP. Maybe it was an Adidas thing, who knows. But they forget about Argentina looking terrible for most of the tournament, not because of Messi, and still pulling through, largely thanks to him and his scoring abilities. It wasn’t pretty one the eyes, but it got the job done. There was nothing that guaranteed playing some wide, open formation would have won ’em the tournament. Oh, and Angel di Maria was quite bad on most days during the tournament.
There’s also the matter of playing a friendly match as opposed to the World Cup final. Germany weren’t using their best setup and like it or not, had a lot less motivation to give it all. Friendly matches might make FIFA happy, but not the fans on most weeks because of how it hurts the continuity of the leagues, and players don’t always take it too seriously. Di Maria was great and so were Argentina, but it really has nothing to do with playing for the World Cup title.
As for Barcelona? That’s a different issue. Lionel Messi thrived in the Pep Guardiola system and after him as well. Even at his “worst” which was last season he still averaged almost a goal per game. He isn’t the last stop with the ball and is a brilliant passer as well, unlike Cristiano Ronaldo, and can be just as dangerous when he played a little further away from the penalty box.
What’s best for a team is a different matter. There are the rumors suggesting Messi is forcing a certain playing style on the team and on his manager. There’s the legend of the coke incident with him and Pep Guardiola which paints Messi in a negative light, not for the first time. Is he really the dictator some make him out to be? Word probably would have come out from the dressing room to the papers at some point.
Barcelona aren’t better without Lionel Messi, especially not now. But he does need to change his game in order to help others blossom. The great thing about him is that he is capable of playing in other positions, not just the ‘false nine’. Neymar would benefit and so will Luis Suarez. Will it happen? It depends on how strong Luis Enrique is in terms of actually getting his way. It seems that the path to resurrect Barcelona’s dominance goes through the re-positioning of Lionel Messi. Unless it’s a bit too late to that.