By Lionel Messi's standards, the 2013-14 season has been an average one for the little man.
He still has 40 goals for the season so far but it has been a season full of injury disruptions and off the pitch issues.
Messi has had three hamstring injuries in total this season, the third took a two-month recovery period; he has had contract issues with the board not giving him a new contract as they promised, which would see him get paid more than Neymar; and Barcelona have not been playing to his strengths under Tata Martino, which has left him looking distant in many matches.
If there was one thing Pep Guardiola and Joan Laporta knew how to do, it was how to keep Messi happy because a happy Messi is untouchable.
The current board and coach have struggled to do that. People may say that it makes Messi greedy wanting to be the highest paid player at Barcelona but, after reading "Messi", the biography by Guillem Balague, it would appear that he just wants to feel loved by the club.
It's the childish nature in the boy who had to grow up too quickly. If Neymar got paid more doughnuts than him, he would want more doughnuts; that's just how it is.
Added to this, there is the fact that Tata Martino has come in and tried to change Barcelona's style. He has tried to change them into a direct team, making them put crosses into the box with Messi as a centre forward, as they did against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. That was never going to work. When this happens in a match, his mind switches off because he isn't receiving the ball enough and he becomes distanced from the game.
There was a comparison made of what was said when Guardiola was at Barcelona and what was said by Tata Martino a month ago: Guardiola said he hopes Messi never gets bored in a match; Martino said he's not looking for too much involvement from Messi all the time. That, for me, says it all. Barcelona as a team haven't been giving Messi the ball enough.
When you have a player like Messi in your team, most the play should go through him. In the past, he was the first person any other player would look for when they received the ball and look how well that worked. But Martino has come in and tried to change the makeup of the team and it hasn't worked.
The 26-year-old also prefers playing with two wide players like Pedro and Alexis Sanchez. Neymar often slows the attack down, which hinders Messi.
Right now Barcelona are a team playing with no penetration and no pace, which doesn't suit Messi. The possession has become sterile due to the players wanting to play tiki-taka but at the same time not wanting to disobey Martino, who doesn't seem sure what he really wants the team to do. It is a team in need of authority.
Messi needs a strong-minded manager, like Guardiola; he needs someone to inspire him, as do the whole team. In my opinion, Messi has always needed a small amount of guidance away from his bad habits, whatever they may be. For example, he only started eating a proper diet at the age of 21 because Guardiola told him to, due to him getting injured too much. If Guardiola hadn't sorted it out then Messi would never have done anything about it.
This season with Barcelona proves how important a manager really is to a team.
It isn't that his whole season has been bad, it has just been incredibly inconsistent. He's been through too many stages of performing like his usual self but then three or four matches later performing extremely under par, looking very uninterested during the matches.
He started off the season brilliantly and you could see that game by game he was looking sharper and sharper but then, after his second hamstring injury of the season, it all started going downhill.
He started off brilliantly when he came back from his two-month injury lay-off but then after about four games he, along with Barcelona as a team, started looking very off-colour and that inconsistency has continued like that throughout the season.
In his various good games this season, including his last two against Athletic Bilbao and Villareal, he has shown that his willingness to dribble is back, unlike most of last season. Because of this, I disagree that he is saving himself for the World Cup; if he was he wouldn't be dribbling at all. I genuinely believe his inconsistency this season is down mainly to the things I have already mentioned.
I also believe that, under the guidance of Alejandro Sabella, Messi is going to transform all the frustration of this season into taking the World Cup by storm. He does believe this is going to be his World Cup, after all. And Sabella, after asking Guardiola how to get the best out of Messi and being told that the team should be built around him and he should be kept happy at all times, could have created the perefct environment for Messi to thrive in this time around in Brazil.
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