Early January 2015. The relationship between Coach Luis Enrique and club talisman Lionel Messi is reportedly strained. The media run stories of Enrique and Messi arguing after losing 1-0 to Real Sociedad in San Sebastian.
Madrid-based newspaper AS run a piece stating Messi issued an ultimatum to club President Josep Maria Bartomeu that either Enrique goes or he does. The situation looked bad and talk was of Real Madrid running away with the League title before May. How things change after five months.
As the month of May nears its end Barcelona have won the League, as well as possibly winning the treble, should they beat Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final and Juventus in the Champions League. So how did this abrupt turn in fortunes come about for La Blaugrana? Two words. Lionel Messi.
The little magician enjoyed a stellar campaign in which he posted amazing statistics. 43 goals, as well as 18 assists, in 38 League games while claiming 10 goals and five assists in 12 games – so far – in the Champions League. He has been at the forefront of everything good about Barcelona and has rediscovered his scintillating form.
Importantly, Messi has been the difference in vital games, those which can make or break a season, where a club’s big players are expected to make their mark. Time and time again has Messi come to the fore, whether in La Liga or Champions League. What sealed the Argentine as Player of the Season was his dazzling performance in the first leg of the Champions League semi-finals against Bayern Munich.
With the score goalless Messi took control of the game with two goals. His second was a thing of beauty, as he left Jerome Boateng for dead before effortlessly dinking the ball over the onrushing Manuel Neuer.
Messi has been helped by the Catalans’ fearsome attack, which allows him more options – hence his 18 League assists, the highest in La Liga this season. Real Madrid’s trio of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo may have swept all before them in Europe last season but Barca’s trio of Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar could go one better and make a clean sweep at home and abroad.
Next stop for Messi: the Copa America this summer in Chile Argentina haven't won the trophy since 1993. Based on Messi’s form that could change.