A video clip of Lionel Messi casually tracking back against Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League last Wednesday has gone viral.
The clip is taken from Barcelona’s 2-1 victory over the Ukrainians but has been sold as an example of a perceived lack of effort from the want-away Argentine this season.
— Europa League Fan (@PutaChampions) November 4, 2020
Messi fails to pressure an opposing runner, instead walking bath rather casually. An analysis from Argentine paper Olé, however, suggests that it’s far from an incidence of laziness.
“On the one hand, his detractors denounce the fact that he does not run and commit himself to recovering the ball, seeing it as a sign of his decline,” explains Vicente Muglia.
“On the other, his defenders affirm that it does not matter, that the job is for someone else on the field – that he needs to be careful with how he applies his effort.”
Diego Simeone agrees with this school of thought, as he outlined on Argentine television. “If a player does not run, we can compensate,” he said. “If there are two players, it becomes more complicated. If there are three, you lose it.”
Pep Guardiola, speaking to Catalan Radio in October 2019, does too. “If someone doesn’t run but scores three goals in every game, I accept it,” he said. “But nobody does that – only Messi comes close. If Leo ran like he did in his first season with me, he would be injured every three months.”
Now 33, it’s inevitable that Messi’s prodigious record is beginning to slow, but even so the Argentine is still lethal by ordinary standards.
This season, he’s scored four goals and contributed four assists in nine games, while in 2019/20 he scored 31 goals and contributed 27 assists in 44 games.
Much of the discontent around Messi’s perceived lack of effort is his ambition, made explicit over the summer, to move on from Barcelona and try his luck on pastures new.
A new board coming in might change his mind, but as for the moment the threat of him leaving for one of Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain or Inter Milan is still present.