Reports of Lionel Messi’s decline have been greatly exaggerated.
The Argentine has just been named La Liga Player of the Month for February after registering six assists in three games; two against Levante, three against Real Betis and one against Getafe.
He also scored four goals in one game against Eibar.
In spite of all that, the fact that he has struggled to drag Barcelona single-handedly out of the mire of Quique Sétien’s early reign has been used as ammunition against him. While he’s scored 23 goals in all competitions this season (he’s only made 30 appearances), it seems unlikely he’ll match his tally of 51 from the last campaign.
His poor performance in the 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid was particularly alarming. Well, to those who believe the six-time Ballon d’Or winner’s best years are behind him, anyway. Among them, few will be surprised to learn, is Hugo Gatti.
Messi’s compatriot and former Albiceleste international has slated him in the past, claiming last year that he needed to join Real Madrid to prove himself as the greatest of all time.
Gatti has now hit the headlines again by questioning whether the 32-year-old is still the “phenomenon” he once was.
“I don’t care if they criticise me in Argentina,” Gatti said on El Chiringuito, via Marca.
“I’m very Argentinian and Messi is a phenomenon, but he’s not a phenomenon now. They treat him wrong because they big him up and big him up and treat him wrong.
“He gets used to it and walks more on the pitch. He has to be better.
“Cristiano [Ronaldo] and him are the two best. Messi has to be better, he’s got used to playing at a weary rhythm, walking and those that know football think the same.
“Take off, kid. You have to play well. When there’s a player like Messi, like it was with Maradona and Pele, and his teammates always give the ball to him to win the game.
“They spoil the team and they don’t put everything they have into it. The team get used to giving him the ball and not anyone else.”
When you look at how heavily Barcelona have relied on Messi’s individual brilliance over the past five years or so, it’s no wonder his teammates have been using him as a first resort.
And given that it’s just a few months since his last Golden Ball, it’s far too early to be dismissing what could be a breathtaking final few years of his career.
That said, he is set for his lowest goal tally in a decade. So appreciate the magic while it lasts, and don’t be too hasty to be proved wrong by Messi time and again.
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