It has become a cliche topic as of late but the idea has a lot of validity and that idea is something is wrong with Lionel Messi. Throughout his career Messi has been praised not only for his ability but for his work ethic. Several of his coaches have remarked how he has the enthusiasm of a young kid who is playing the game for fun and less so for the money and fame. This enthusiasm is evident in the way he prepares for and plays in a game. He is one of the few players who always seems to be running at top speed all game and never seems to dive in order to trick the referee into awarding him a free kick. His hard work has served him and Barcelona well as he has won numerous awards both for the team and individual awards for himself. When compared to his La Liga counter-part, Cristiano Ronaldo, he seems to represent all that is good and beautiful with soccer whereas Cristiano Ronaldo represents the arrogance and trickery of soccer. While fans are accustomed to Cristiano Ronaldo complaining to referees, diving, and sulking; they never see Lionel Messi do that and therefore hold him to a different standard.
That standard he is now held to is part of the reason that his recent lack of production and dip in performance has become so magnified. It’s not just that Messi isn’t scoring, even the best forwards suffer from streaks of profligacy, instead it’s the way he is doing it. Any fan with a discerning eye can see that something is wrong with Messi because he does not seem to have the work-rate and “edge” that has thus far defined his career. Recently he was slammed for barely running over one more mile than Pinto, the Barcelona goalkeeper. During Barcelona’s recent game against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, Lionel Messi ran 6.8 km versus Pinto’s 5.3 km. Obviously, this isolated stat does not paint the full picture, but there is a reason the media has been highlighting it. The media pointed this stat out because it illustrates what they have already noticed while watching Barcelona games of late: Messi is not trying as hard as he used to. In Wednesday’s Copa Del Rey final both teams did not perform to their best ability but Messi once again looked listless and disinterested. Gareth Bale was all over the place, and even Neymar, who has been much maligned for his lack of production this season, came close to bringing the game to overtime. Messi hung on the outside of the action during many of Barcelona’s attacks and even when he was involved there was something intrinsic missing from the way he was playing.
There are several cases to be made as to why Lionel Messi is not playing up to his usual standard, such as him playing out on the wing which means he is involved less in the attack compared to when he has typically in the center of the attack. It’s true that playing out wide isn’t his natural position but a player of Messi’s caliber should still be able to adjust. Gareth Bale has been forced to adjust multiple times during his career and his work-rate and production have not suffered as greatly as Messi’s has during his recent streak. There is more to this argument and plenty of stats that could be analyzed but the naked-eye test is all that is needed to see something is wrong with Messi. This is not to say, that Messi is a detriment to his team, because he has scored 38 goals in 41 games in all competitions for Barcelona this season. In fact, Messi even at his worst is better than most players best. Unfortunately for Messi, his excellent play has created a barometer of success he is expected to consistently reach. This is evidenced by the large amount of criticism he received during the early part of his career for his sub-par performances when he played for Argentina.
Lionel Messi is a great player and he is allowed to go through a slump. Anyone who has watched him play know that this is not a sign of a permanent drop in play. That being said great players such as Messi do not suffer these obvious drops in play unless there is a reason. It could be the result of an injury, either a new one or the reemergence of an old one. He could be dissatisfied with the inner politics of the organization, the coach, or even tactics. Whatever it is that is affecting Messi, it is deprecating the intangibles that have made him such a wonderful talent to watch. Hopefully, it is a sign of a small problem and not something larger that could affect his World Cup performance. Something is wrong with Messi and it needs to be fixed.