Why Lionel Messi’s future is as a mentor, not the master

Messi has slipped a place to No.3 in FourFourTwo's Best 100 Players in the World list, but Tim Stannard says a life chasing individual honours isn't what the Argentine needs anymore...

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Although the world's biggest screen idols are often seen as the same entity in different packages, the similarities disappear when an esteemed actor is considered to have bombed in a part.

If Robert De Niro in his pre-sucking phase had starred in a Michael Bay film, the world would not have branded him as a washed-up has-been on a steady decline, ready to end up on a big screen reboot of Brookside.

Instead, movie-loving folk tend to shrug off a stinker and consider the rest of the actor’s back catalogue.

The life of a footballer is far, far different. One season not up to previously high standards has everyone and their giddy aunt ready to write the player off for good. This is not to say that Leo Messi had a bad 2014. Far from it. The Argentine was a monk’s duvet away from winning the World Cup, which is not a terrible achievement, and still racked up 28 goals in La Liga.

The problem is that Messi normally knocks in about 50 and wins loads of titles. Sadly for the Barça man in 2014, an awful lot of headlines concerned public utterances that he was not entirely sure of his future at the club, and legal trouble over his tax declarations.

A dejected Messi was handed the World Cup's Golden Ball award despite Argentina's shortcomings

Be more like McConaughey

Cristiano Ronaldo, in comparison, looked like he had a stunning year to squash Messi’s effort into the dust. However, this is all smoke and mirrors. Portugal’s World Cup was a complete shambles, Real Madrid lost out to Atlético Madrid in the title race and the player was nowhere to be seen for much of the Champions League final that was seconds away from being lost to the mighty Rojiblancos.

Ronaldo, though, had considerably better press (largely run from Madrid) which has always been a bit of a gripe of Messi's, who feels that Barça can do an awful lot more to support him both on and off the pitch.

Perhaps a better way to look at Messi’s 2014 is to think of an acting legend giving it all in a film but being backed up by an uncertain director, a tired script and a supporting cast that phoned in performances. Gerard Piqué has certainly not been in a Philip Seymour Hoffman zone of late.

The year to come is going to be transitional. Messi can either see out his football life with tired rom-coms, or go edgy and low-budget in a new-look Barcelona.

The footballer should perhaps look to Matthew McConaughey, who successfully rebuilt a career having looked dead set to be playing lovable idiots alongside Jennifer Aniston. Rather than trying to be the leading man and compete alongside Luis Suárez and Neymar, players hoping to come close to reaching Messi’s genius, little Leo needs to reinvent himself as a player.

It must be said, though, that losing 60 pounds, sporting a cowboy hat and mumbling his way through HBO detective shows might be going a little far.

The Argentine broke the all-time La Liga scoring record with a hat-trick vs Sevilla

Leaving the limelight

Some changes have started to happen. Messi seems happier to drop away from the opposition penalty area to become provider. He seems to get just as much of a kick providing an assist than scoring a goal. Rather than attempting to stay on as the master of the Camp Nou, the 27-year-old should become the mentor. Chasing awards and trinkets should be left to certain members of the Real Madrid squad.

Messi should no longer care if he is number one in the world, wins the Ballon d’Or again, or tops polls. The player has been there, done that. Messi was, remains, and will forever be a master of his craft. What some would consider to be a turkey of year can never change that.

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