Don’t blame Messi for lashing out – Barcelona and his body are failing him

Lionel Messi Barcelona 2020-21

We are watching the decline of the best football player in history in real-time; it isgoing to be painful.

His frustration in Seville camefrom a game in which he found no opportunity to make an impact, which saw him shut out by Athletic’s gritty defence and then quite literally blocked out by Asier Villalibre before he shoved the Basque forward to the ground to earn his red card.

But there is also widerfrustration at the club’s state, without a presidentand with elections delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.Barcelona are fallen giants, mentally weak and with crumbling foundations, including Messi himself.

There was also frustration because Messi himself knows he is starting to lose his powers, the qualities and talent that took him to football’s peak and kept him there for a decade.

Next summer he will be 34, and it clear that his best days are behind him. He tried to leave in the summer and head to a team where he would notneed to be the man who does everything, but was not allowed to.

It will notbe an instant shift from god to ‘just’ good. Messi started 2021 in spectacular form, with four goals and an assist in three La Liga games, including a brace not two weeks ago against Athletic themselves.

This season, though, looks more and more likely to be his final hurrah.

Messiis renowned for keeping a cool head, and it was strange to see him lash out at Villalibre, even though a reverse angle later showed it was more of a shove than a punch.

During Cristiano Ronaldo’s last few years in Spain he would commit this type of offence multiple times a season, often frustrated because Real Madrid were left in the shade by Barcelona domestically, while he also felt his own presence and abilities changing, like Messi now.

The Portugal superstarmanaged to convert himself into a killer inside the penalty area,meaning it no longer mattered that he could notbeat a man like he used to.

Ronaldo was also fortunate VAR was notin place at the time, with Messi’s moment of indiscretion caught by the video referee and quickly acted on by on-field official Gil Manzano.

He was provoked by Villalibre’s deliberate obstruction, but this kindof cynical move has happened to him time and time again across his 753 Barcelona games, and it isonly now that he hascracked.

Because it was a push, not a punch, Messi will likely get a two-game ban instead of the four-plus matches being touted in some quarters, which might not be the worst thing for him.

He played 120 minutes having come into the game nursing a hamstring problem that kept him out of the semi-final win over Real Sociedad. As he ages, managing his minutes becomes imperative if you want him at his very best.

Both Ronald Koeman and Antoine Griezmann were asked about Messi’s red card after the game, and both were careful not to criticise him.

“I can understand what Messi did,” explained manager Koeman.”I don’t know how many times they fouled him, and it’s normal to react when they keep trying to foul you as a player who is looking to dribble with the ball, but I need to see it again properly.”

Griezmann, meanwhile, took a leaf out of former Arsenal coach and his French compatriot Arsene Wenger’s book, saying that he didn’t see the incident.

Pussyfooting around Messi is something that has been done at Barcelona for many years, and when you do not, there are consequences. Former director Pere Gratacos paid the price with his head when he said Messi’s team-mates were part of the reason he was so good, back in 2017.

However, this is a year of transition and a changing of the guard, potentially a serious one if Messi decides to leave in the summer when his contract expires. It is important for him to make sure he does not impact negatively on the team because of his frustration.

In his bones he knows this Barcelona side are notfavourites for any trophy and will find it tricky to lift silverware this season, but it ishard for him to accept that on another level, given the success he has grown accustomed to at Camp Nou, and brought the club himself.

The key will be in focusing on the positives, likethe partnership he is forging with 18-year-old midfielder Pedri, a player whom he can teach valuable lessons and shape the future of.

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