For almost five years, Lionel Messi was able to stay completely fit and hardly miss a match due to even the most minor of injuries. Suddenly, 2013 brings with it a turn of fortunes that also had to do with changes at Barcelona after Pep Guardiola left, and especially some of the people he took with him, making it less surprising that the team’s biggest star has been unable to shake off injuries for the last six months.
How did Lionel Messi stay so healthy from the moment Guardiola arrived, after missing almost eight months of football in the previous three years? Luck and working on himself were certainly an important part of turning his wonderkid potential into the best player in the world, but it had a lot to do with the men around him, advising him and watching over him.
Marc Ingla, the vice president of football at the club back in 2008, told Graham Hunter for his book Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team In The World about the team’s plan to get rid of all the muscle strains Messi was suffering from early in his career.
After that Celtic match we constructed a holistic plan for his future performance — to manage the number of meals he had, what type of food he should eat, how many hours of sleep he had to get, what type of stretching he had to do every day. It was a plan to keep him healthy and to minimize injuries. We invested a great deal of time and money in it.
Juanjo Brau was in charge of shadowing Lionel Messi from that point, and making sure that the physical demands from Messi were adjusted and aligned with the amount of stress he was under. In short, he was in charge of balancing Messi’s explosiveness on the pitch and what he does away from the football stadium. It might be a slightly holistic approach, but it’s hard to argue about its effectiveness on an individual and club level as well.
The fitness coach Lorenzo Buenaventura, who is now with Pep Guardiola in Munich and physio Emili Ricart were a bit part of the Barcelona training/medical staff during those years. Both of them are gone now, while Brau is no longer shadowing Messi and being in charge of every little detail of his proffesional life.
Messi has aggravated the same hamstring injury four times in the past seven months. From the match in Paris when it all began, to picking up that injury once again vs Atletico Madrid last season, going through his tedious summer which included travelling close to 100,000 kilometers during his Friends of Messi tour. He didn’t get enough rest from the club in the preseason, and picked up more muscle strain early in the season despite the new approach from Martino about letting him rest from time to time. He has admitted he wasn’t 100% in recent matches, and then came the unlucky day during the visit to Real Betis, which will now keep him away from the pitch for six weeks, at least.
Barcelona are worried about Messi being ready for the match against Atletico Madrid in January and obviously the Champions League knockout stage a month later. Even though he should be up and running by then, maybe taking it a bit slower this time is wise. In Argentina, they’re worried, naturally, about his fitness heading into the World Cup. But rest might not be enough. Maybe a different approach and decisions have to be made heading into the next few years of his career, so these past few months won’t become a recurring thing.