Leo Messi will not make Barcelona’s trip to Kiev despite not being injured. It transpires that Ronald Koeman has simply decreed it be thus and although Barça are already impoverished not taking Messi’s absence into account, I believe the decision is understandable. Messi is sleepwalking through games, playing without enthusiasm or incisiveness and a few days off with his family to relax and ruminate will not do him any harm. Last summer he made an inopportune and illogical move that has filled him with melancholy and frustration. A chance to step back for a bit could provide some perspective. Furthermore, Barcelona are in good shape in the Champions League, top of their group with nine points from nine. And although it is sacrilegious to say it, there is no guarantee that Barcelona will play a better game in Kiev with Messi than without him.
With the mess of last summer and his numerous altercations with a president who has now departed behind him, Messi now has a purely footballing dilemma to resolve in the final stages of his career: he needs to adapt his game. He has lost some of the lightning spark and the tenth of a second that used to ensure his moves ended in the back of the net but which are now starting to be frustrated at the decisive moment. He is still head and shoulders above pretty much every other player at pretty much everything but he has to find, under the guidance of Koeman, a new style of play that will not result in him losing the ball 23 times as he did against Atlético, and at the same time one that will allow the many qualities he still possesses to shine.
Messi must manage himself ahead of 2022 World Cup
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is now two years away: the Holy Grail that Messi’s CV still lacks. It will help him to pace himself, to rest when rest is required, to not play when his presence is not 100 percent essential. Perhaps he could play almost every home game and skip a few away fixtures where his renunciation of maximum effort, something that will not now be corrected, weighs more. This treatment was prescribed by Helenio Herrera for Ladislao Kubala 60 years ago and that Barcelona side were unstoppable. Anything is better than seeing him drag himself across faraway fields while he leaves his side with 10 players again and again. And on the other hand, the world will one day have to accustom itself to seeing Barça play without Messi. The hands of time pause for nobody and sooner or later Messi as a Barcelona player will become, as everything eventually must, a memory.