Messi obsession overlooks Barca hard work

MADRID - No one has yet come up with a failsafe system to stop Lionel Messi, perhaps because an obsession with Barcelona's outstanding individual is blinding many to the work of his coach and team-mates.

The Argentine forward's awesome four-goal destruction of Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-finals in midweek prompted an outpouring of advice from the helpful - man-marking and cutting off his supply lines - to the ridiculous (grab a shotgun).

The coach of Barca's city rivals Espanyol, Argentine Mauricio Pochettino, said putting Messi in any team would turn them into champions.

Pep Guardiola may have made note of some of the theories put forward but would probably disagree with Pochettino's assessment, as he plots to become the first Barca coach to win back-to-back away 'Clasicos' when they visit Real Madrid on Saturday.

The 39-year-old has said on a number of occasions his approach to soccer has been influenced by Johan Cruyff, so it is enlightening to hear what the club's recently-appointed honorary president has to say on the matter.

"Messi has his abilities but there are always 11 in a team. Every one of those players is important at a particular moment," Dutch great Cruyff told Barcelona television on Friday.

"Messi could score four goals but if (goalkeeper Victor) Valdes doesn't stop the ball you lose 5-4.

"The coach has special pieces in particular positions. Like Xavi, for example, who works hard to calm things down (in midfield) and who adds pace to the movement of the ball," added Cruyff.

"When all the work has been done Messi steps in with the master play. He puts the finishing touches to the team effort."


Guardiola's bold decision to swap striker Samuel Eto'o for Inter Milan's Zlatan Ibrahimovic raised eyebrows last year but it appears to have helped Messi develop as a goal-scorer and given the team new options going forward.

The giant Swede's physical presence and intelligent movement opens up spaces for the World Player of the Year to make his darting runs, though the injured Ibrahimovic will be missing on Saturday.

Guardiola has also given Messi more freedom to look for the ball, dropping off the right flank into the hole behind the forwards to leave Daniel Alves raiding down that wing instead.

In the centre Messi profits from Barca's normally overwhelming possession, inter-changing quick, short passes with Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Seydou Keita until a space opens up, destroying well thought-out marking systems.

"Messi is trying out lots of different things at present," Cruyff added.

"(The coach) has to be flexible, you can't have one fixed idea. The system isn't so important but you need technically gifted players capable of understanding what you say.

"If you have a sufficiently intelligent team, a coach that sees things, and one or two players who can effect a change in position, and change everything, that is perfect."

After the 4-1 second-leg win over Arsenal, Guardiola summed up his approach. "If we don't play well ... Messi might not do so well," he said.

"We don't ask him to score four goals, we ask him to enjoy himself on the ball when he gets it. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn't. We just want him to have fun."

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