For all Lionel Messi's genius, his minimal flaws are often discussed more than his outrageous talent.
Those criticising Messi's work-rate would do well to realise the 27-year-old has averaged a phenomenal fifty games per season for club and country over the past ten campaigns. The extra strain, a consequence of Barcelona's success, and the long-haul nature of international football for Argentina, looks to be taking a toll on Messi, with his father proclaiming his son was suffering from exhaustion during the World Cup.
The stats made for contrasting reading. Naysayers would point to the fact that, heading into the final, Messi had covered less ground than any other player that had taken part in six matches, besides the beleaguered Fred. His performances against Holland in the semi-final, and Germany in the main event, did little to convince.
However, a piece in The Telegraph highlighted how Messi carried out more successful dribbles than any other player, and delivered more balls into the area than any of his counterparts.
He undeniably showed signs of exhaustion during the World Cup final, floating on the periphery of a game meant to solidify his standing as one of the greatest ever. He wandered away from Argentina's full-time huddle in a manner not befitting a captain, seemingly not out of frustration but due to pure exhaustion.
Another worrying sign is Messi's tendency to vomit either before, or during games. This reared its ugly head during the final, and as of yet is unexplained. Although Messi and his coaches are keen to state the vomiting incidents don't affect his performances, something either physically or mentally is out of sync.
Nerves would be forgiven, due to the insane amount of pressure Messi comes under every game, however this would seem too elementary an explanation for such a precocious talent.
This brings us on to next season. With Neymar recovering from a fractured vertebrae, and Luis Suárez sidelined due to his "antics", Messi is once again the main focus of Barça's attack. With the La Liga season set to get underway on August 23rd, Messi's supporting cast looks minimal, although the potential, when injuries and suspensions subside, is unrivalled.
Will style suit?
Luís Enrique will look to implement a high-octane pressing style next season, but doubts remain as to whether Messi is still compatible with such a method. This is not to say he is lazy, simply the sheer toll of games he has played from the age of seventeen are beginning to take their toll.
With Neymar, Suarez and Pedro all capable of scoring goals, it is vital Barcelona manage Messi carefully next season. Tata Martino was all too aware of the dangers of burnout last season, "we must rest him in games", "he is very intelligent and we agreed very quickly together on this direction".
Messi's two month absence was carefully manipulated so Barça wouldn't miss their main man, however the Catalans ended up with a solitary Spanish Super Cu, so it arguably back-fired.
The joy has leaked out of Messi's game, although the devastating ability to win a game in seconds remains. Whether he can regain this joy remains to be seen, but hopefully for Barça and Argentina supporters, their talisman is given enough time, both before, and during the season, to rejuvenate, and regain the smile and verve he used to play with.
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