He has been badly cut down at the point of his powers. Following a blooming finale to 2012 and a world-record 91 goals for his club and country, Lionel Messi has had his 2013 halted by injury and is now sidelined until the end of the year as he recovers from a fourth muscle problem in eight weeks. So where has it all gone wrong for Barcelona’s brilliant and once seemingly immortal Argentine?
Messi was affectd by series of muscle injuries earlier on in his career and looked as if he would be a player prone to such strains throughout his playing days.
But a special fitness plan was designed under Pep Guardiola to cover all aspects of his conditioning and Leo never looked back. Between 2008 and 2012, he was not only the greatest player in the world but also the only footballer on the planet to be in good shape.
The problems began early April in Barca’s Champions League last-eight tie at Paris Saint-Germain. The Argentine came out limping with a hamstring strain at Parc des Princes and, clearly nowhere near fit, returned in the second leg to save the Catalan club from a surprise end by arranging Pedro for an equaliser and passage to the last eight on away goals.
Messi then looked lost in Munich as Barca were thrashed 4-0 by Bayern in the semi-finals and missed the 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou altogether in the second leg after being brought back hastily against Athletic Bilbao days earlier
This term has brought three more injuries already: a thigh problem picked up against Atletico Madrid in the Spanish Supercopa back in August, a similar strain at Almeria in La Liga in late September and now the hamstring problem which will keep him out for the rest of year. Each time he closes in on full fitness, Messi has suffered a setback.
“Leo has to stop and rest for as long as he needs,” team-mate Cesc Fabregas said on Sunday. “I had the same problem at Arsenal. You want to come back quickly and it’s a mistake. It’s a bitch of an injury.”
It perhaps could all have been prevented in the first place, with Messi injured at PSG following a gruelling trip to South America for back-to-back World Cup qualifiers in March. Back at Barcelona following the long journey, the Argentine featured for 90 minutes in the Catalans’ 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo before the trip to Paris in midweek. International team-mate Javier Mascherano was also injured in the French capital a few days after returning from South America. It hardly seemed a coincidence.
“Leo could do with a rest,” former Argentina fitness coach Fernando Signorini said last week. “If he accepted it in some of his commitments, it would be good for him to save up some minutes because for some time now he has been pushed too hard.”
But Messi also pushes himself too hard. “Leo won’t listen,” Signorini added. “He is like Diego [Maradona]. They always want to play and to be the best in the world they always demand the maximum from themselves.”