By Manuel Traquete
There seems to be a notion, even among some Barcelona supporters, that Barcelona are completely dependant on Lionel Messi – a notion that gained even more supporters after the Argentine inspired Barcelona to a hard-fought win over Villareal with a brace.
To be fair, it’s quite easy to understand why many people believe this: this season, Messi has already scored 19 goals (of Barcelona’s 43) and assisted seven. Under Pep Guardiola, La Pulga has scored a disbelieving 104 goals and assisted 39 in only 120 matches. When a player creates 143 goals in 120 matches, it’s difficult to argue that the team is dependant on him.
Lionel Messi (photo) is by far the most gifted player of this generation. Having such a special player, it’s just natural that the team is built to maximize his potential, just like Santos were built to accommodate Pelé and Napoli were built to accommodate Maradona. In Guardiola’s system, Messi is given a free role in Barcelona’s attacking line and every other player is “sacrificed” to accommodate the Argentine genius.
By Manuel Traquete
It makes perfect sense and it’s a setup that made Messi set the world on the fire over the past two seasons and made many analysts believe that Messi might be on his way to become the best, or at least one of the best, player of all-time.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Barcelona are dependant on their superstar. The truth is that, even when Messi is out, Barcelona are still a fantastic side, capable of beating any opponent. Last season in the Champions League group stage, a Messi-less Barcelona beat Inter Milan 2-0 at Camp Nou, the same Inter Milan side who would eventually become European Champions. This should be proof enough that Barcelona are a great side without Messi.
But there’s even more conclusive evidence: the backbone of the Spanish National Team is basically the same as Barcelona’s (Puyol, Piqué, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa and Pedro). With seven Barcelona players in their lineup, Spain are the current European and World Champions. They lack a cutting-edge (Messi) but they’re still able to impose their style and dominate even the best teams in the world and beat them.
Earlier this season, Messi was injured and Barcelona still managed to win (quite easily) at Athelico Bilbao, a stadium where both Barcelona and Real Madrid had dropped points last season. In that match, Villa was the attacking reference and Barcelona didn’t feel any negative effects.
Actually, the facts suggest that Messi is a lot more dependant on Barcelona than the other way round. Messi’s otherworldly talents are undoubted, but it’s obvious that it becomes easier for him to unleash them in a system that is built to accommodate him and maximize his talents.
Messi’s performances with Argentina provide further evidence of that: without Xavi and Iniesta behind him, Messi is still a fantastic player, but by no means is he the same player who sets the world on fire week in week out at Barcelona.
As for Barcelona, the team is obviously (much) more dangerous with Messi, but Messi’s absence is far from the end of the world and the results prove it.
Barcelona and Messi is truly a match made in heaven, and so is Guardiola and Messi. Ever since Pep arrived, he has tried to take the most out of Messi and the success has been evident. In 2008/2009, Barcelona won the sextuple; Messi was part of arguably the greatest (certainly the most prolific) attacking trio in history with Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry. He scored 38 goals and assisted 18. He was the focal point of an attacking trio that scored 100 goals combined and he went on to win the Ballon d’Or and the FIFA Player of the Year award with a record points total.
In 2009/2010, he assumed an even more active role in the team’s attack and scored a whooping 47 goals, assisting 14 and setting the world on fire on several occasions. Following his absolutely magnificent performance, capped with four goals, against Arsenal, many pundits started discussing his place among the all-time greats.
This season, despite an early injury, he already has 19 goals and seven assists in just 16 matches. In the Guardiola era, Messi has scored 104 goals. To put this in perspective, the second best scorer in this period is Samuel Eto’o with 36 goals. All these figures are even more impressive if we remember that Messi isn’t even an out-and-out striker.
The numbers don’t lie: Messi is Barcelona’s main attacking weapon, the focal point of Barcelona’s offensive game, and his influence in Barcelona’s sextuple and even in last season’s trophies is huge. At 23, Messi is becoming a better and better player. His passing/playmaking skills have been improving by the day, as have his goalscoring instincts. He’s a more complete player now that he was a year ago, and when he reaches his peak in a few years, he’ll be ready to lead both Barcelona and Argentina to glory.
That said, Barcelona are not dependant on Messi. It’s a perfect system where Messi makes Barcelona better and Barcelona make Messi better. Messi wouldn’t be what he is today without Barcelona and Barcelona would probably have never won the sextuple without the Argentine.
It’s truly a match made in heaven and, with Messi leading, only a very unexpected set of circumstances will stop the blaugrana from adding many major trophies to their museum during the next decade, as Messi slowly but steadily becomes one of the best players ever to grace the football pitch. In today’s game, no player can even come close to Messi, whose talents keep delighting Barcelona fans and neutrals all over the world.