During Barcelona's 7-0 thrashing of Levante on Sunday, we witnessed the rare sight of Lionel Messi walking off the pitch before the final whistle.

Barca were 6-0 up at the time, while Messi was one goal away from completing his first hat-trick of the 2013/14 campaign, yet new manager Gerardo Martino ordered him off the pitch to be replaced by Andres Iniesta for the final 20 minutes of the game.

Had Martino's predecessor Tito Vilanova tried to do the same thing, there's every chance that the usually placid Barcelona superstar would have reserved a few strong words for the manager in his office afterwards.

Indeed, in a recent interview with Spanish newspaper El País, Vilanova reportedly revealed that Messi asked to remain on the pitch for the entire 90 minutes of every match.

For the modern-day footballer, who is expected to play upwards of 60 matches a season, this is plain unrealistic - even if you're the world's best player with four Ballon d'Or trophies in your personal silverware cabinet.

Messi's desire to want to play as many minutes as possible is certainly admirable - there are many footballers who could take a leaf from his book when it comes to his unrelenting desire to play the game - but the odd substitution here and there will undoubtedly help both Barcelona and the player himself in the long run.

It can be argued that Messi will score goals and perform fantastically regardless of whether he misses the final 20 minutes of every other match - after all, we're talking about a player who has scored 133 club goals in the last two seasons.

But in the final months of the campaign, when the big games begin to come thick and fast, Barcelona need Messi as fresh as possible.

Last season he missed both legs of Barcelona's Champions League semi-final tie against Bayern Munich because of injury - and the result was a humiliating 7-0 aggregate defeat for the Catalan giants.

Without their inspirational talisman on the pitch, Barcelona are nowhere near as dangerous.

Messi, of course, has an unparalleled quality to change any game in the blink of an eye; the remarkable ability to play a defence-splitting pass from any area in the opponents' half, plus the knack of scoring goals at crucial times.

And although he may end the season with a few less goals to his name, he could end it with a few more medals.

Topics:
#La Liga
#Lionel Messi
#Barcelona
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