FFT's Spanish expert Tim Stannard on the injury affair causing a kerfuffle in Catalonia...
Should Lionel Messi have a bit of time on his hands to flick through a few papers or turn on the sports radio channels over the next couple of days, he may think that the world has gone gaga.
A motley group of psychologists, doctors, quacks and team-mates have been thoroughly probed for the great pondering over whether the Argentine’s recent spate of muscle injuries are down to too much football being played by the wee genius, not enough football or too much time swanning about the world on holidays.
The very personal line of questioning must feel a little like a Channel 4 news bulletin featuring a lengthy discussion on whether your sick day from work was due to a poorly tummy or a hangover.
It doesn't seem to matter that Messi played in no international tournaments last summer, and the most strenuous activity he would have endured in his series of global personal engagements was sitting on a plane and lounging about in eight-star hotels. Because, if you believe everyone else, the 26-year-old's lack of beach time with a pile of books is seen as the leading cause for his forthcoming two-month absence, having torn a hamstring against Real Betis on Sunday.
Although Barcelona have done planet-trotting tours in the past few years without too many side effects, AS claim these and Messi’s lack of holidays are the root causes of an awful lot of slow-mo TV shots of the forward standing, shaking his head and looking most glum indeed as Neymar steals the tiki-taka show. “I’m sure he’s earned lots of money in his account from the holidays he didn’t have,” parped the snooty editorial in Tuesday’s AS by Alfredo Relaño.
Over in the Catalan capital, the locals are trying to keep a stiff upper lip over the affair. 'Tis with good reason too, considering Barcelona couldn't be in better shape to cover the absence of the previously crucial Messi. After all, Cesc Fabregas, Alexis Sánchez, Pedro and Neymar have all stood up to be counted when necessary this season.
Although the front cover of Sport bemoaned Messi as “down and out”, Joan Batlle noted that the timing is not all that bad for the Argentine to have a bit of a rest. “Champions League qualification is assured, the league is on track and the cup should not be a problem,” wrote the columnist in Tuesday’s edition.
It’s a similar vibe in Mundo Deportivo, although Santi Nolla highlighted the importance of Neymar's summer arrival in getting through the next two months without Messi’s goals. “Without the signing of Neymar, this injury would be a drama in capital letters.”
Instead, the strength in depth of Barcelona’s front line, featuring the re-emergence of Alexis and Neymar’s successful integration into the side, means the issue of Messi suddenly being injury-prone is a mere talking point. The really big story is that Barcelona may not be missing Messi that much.