Leo Messi out injured again. This is getting worrying. Since he strained the femoral biceps muscle in his right leg at Paris Saint Germain back in April, the four-time Ballon d’Or winner has suffered a total of five further thigh injuries with the latest being a tear to the femoral biceps in his left leg against Betis on Sunday which will see him out of action until 2014.
As a youngster Messi suffered femoral biceps injuries in both legs, February 2006 right leg 15 days out, March 2006 right leg 10 weeks out, November 2007 left leg 4 weeks out and March 2008 left leg 4 weeks out. However, in the four seasons under Pep Guardiola he was rarely injured, he had no thigh problems and the only time he missed a couple of weeks was due to an ankle injury in November 2010. This was often put down to Guardiola’s insistence on the importance of nutrition, so could it be that Messi has changed his eating habits since Guardiola’s departure?
Apparently Messi still has the same nutritionist and he continues to have Juanjo Brau as his personal physical trainer, so nothing has changed in this respect unless the player has become a secret snacker. There is nothing in Messi’s physical appearance to suggest this, so before I start accusing him of not looking after himself we should consider other possible reasons for his injuries such as the demands put on him as the world’s best player or the possibility that it could just be down to a run of bad luck.
If it’s just misfortune there is little we can do except hope that his luck improves quickly. However, if we look at the demands on the player we may be getting closer to the real problem. The injury at PSG in April came after Messi was played at Celta following the exhausting experience of playing at altitude in Bolivia for Argentina. Eight days after the injury Messi was back, though clearly not at 100%, for the PSG second leg which led to him missing the following two league games before being played half-fit for the Bayern Munich semi-final first leg. He was then played for half an hour at Athletic and despite scoring a golazo he injured his left leg and was ruled out for the second game with Bayern. He returned to score twice in 30 minutes against Betis but then walked off with a left leg injury at Atlético Madrid and missed the last three games of the season.
One might have expected the player to take a good long rest over the summer. However, he was either poncing about with Dolce i Gabbani or playing charity matches. While the benefit games might be applauded as giving something back to people in need, it didn’t help the player rest and might also be seen as an attempt to clean his image after the revelations over tax irregularities. There is also the suspicion that those surrounding Messi realise how much their ‘product’ is worth and want to milk it for all they can. If you are on a percentage of Messi’s marketing income then you want him out doing things as there is obviously little for you to make if he is relaxing at home with his family and friends.
Messi looked fine during the preseason and there were positive signs at first that Tata Martino would include his countryman in his system of rotations. However, following his return after injuring his right thigh at Almeria, he played 25 minutes at Osasuna on October 19 and then played all 90 minutes of the following five games in sixteen days against Milan, Madrid, Celta, Espanyol and Milan again. He started again against Betis on Sunday but his left leg went again in the first 20 minutes and he will now be sidelined for a minimum of six weeks.
Given the form of Neymar, Fabregas, Alexis and Pedro, the current injury should not in itself prove much an obstacle to the team’s progress. The main concern is for the future and the worry that as such an explosive player Messi may continue to suffer similar problems in the coming years. There is the added concern that the injuries may affect the mentality of the player as he may be more reserved if he has the risk of getting injured in the back of his mind. It would surely be prudent not to rush Messi in his recuperation process. It is not just a question of the doctors saying the injury is healed, Messi should be convinced he is at 100% when he returns or we are unlikely to see the best of him.