This is called champion depression. This difficulty to re-motivate, re-mobilize, after winning a major title. A phenomenon that affects even the greatest. Just remember Zinedine Zidane’s post-World Cup 98 season (two goals and two assists) or think of the ongoing season of Jorginho, fresh European champion with Italy. This evil, however, seemed foreign to Lionel Messi, an insatiable machine to score and win titles, who had made the extraordinary his daily life. But on July 10, 2021, the ex-Barcelona man lifted a trophy that weighed heavier than usual, laden with a mountain of frustrations, disappointments and humiliations.
Fifteen years since the Pulga – selected from the age of 18 for the 2006 World Cup – was chasing a title with Argentina. Failing to do so, he had to endure violent criticism from his compatriots and he began to cast an air of curse on his history in selection after these two defeats in the Copa América finals against Chile (2015 and 2016). At the Maracana stadium, against Neymar’s Brazil, Messi got rid of an immense burden. And his happiness was on a par with past disappointments. “I thought of my family, my wife, my children and my parents. And all the times I went on vacation being sad the first few days”.
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This time, he went on vacation satisfied, without the need to vent his frustration by slamming goal after goal in the club. When he signs at PSG, the Argentinian is even probably in full decompression. He is, in any case, short of form, after a summer so marked by his hasty move from Barcelona. What if the mediocre season for the seven-time Ballon d’Or had started on July 10, 2021, on a podium in Rio de Janeiro?
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Not a moving pro
In his indictment in defense of “Leo”, made at the microphone of Europe1, last Saturday, Mauricio Pochettino did not mention the Copa América. But he recalled more generally that the champion is also a human being. That changes of environment could disturb him – we remember his tears during his farewell conference in Barcelona. ” It was a year of learning, thus considered the PSG coach, at the professional level, by integrating a new team, a new championship, but also at the family level. It must be taken into account “.
Leo Messi is not a player like the others. It is obvious. There are his statistics which attest to this, his giant slaloms in the heart of the opposing defenses, but also a pioneering course. When he arrives at 13 at Barça, seeing a South American teenager sign in Europe is a rarity. In Catalonia, he is even the first of these “child footballers” torn from their continent to be trained above ground.
Lionel Messi and Marco Verratti (PSG)
Credit: Getty Images
Messi lived his teenage and adult life in Barcelona. He didn’t know anything else. Homebody, routine, he did not plan to leave if the situation of his club had not pushed him towards the exit. Having to come out of your cocoon for the first time, at 34, can take time to digest, and this is another way to understand a gloomy exercise. Especially when you arrive in a team without collective benchmarks.
Messi has always had a preference on his position. The right flank as the starting point, and the axis as the final destination. This is where he reigned in Barcelona, the star around which the team revolved. But at PSG, the Argentinian landed in a frumpy team not designed around him, while his arrival was decided after the start of pre-season preparation. Neither he nor Mauricio Pochettino have yet found a definitive tactical solution, even if the Pulga is still the second best passer in Ligue 1.
His year in Paris finally looked like a scenario too often experienced in selection, at the heart of teams cut in two: either he stalled to touch more balls and could not at the same time be where he causes the most damage – close to the surface – or else he received the ball in situations that were too complicated and without solutions around him to make a difference. Which engendered impotence, counter-performances, frustration of the player and the public.
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Like their Argentine counterparts, some PSG supporters have also criticized the Pulga for his walks on the field, which would be witness to a lack of motivation. In Messi, the Argentinian’s reference biography, the journalist Guillem Balagué offers an explanation for this significant time spent walking. “Leo has a muscle type with a very high energy consumption, he writes, his muscles quickly lose all their energy, and even if they recharge at high speed, this vacuum is extreme and leads to a need for a period of rest after the effort.“
Anyway, at almost 35 years old, the Argentinian has undeniably lost his vivacity. This season, he has also been held back by injuries. A contusion against Lyon (September 22) as he began to find the rhythm, a knee problem a month later, and the Covid-19 at the start of the year. These physical concerns contributed to his disappointing first tricolor vintage, especially since they delayed the establishment of automatisms with Neymar and Mbappé, with whom he was to form an irresistible trio.
And now ?
“Next season will be a completely different season for him“. This is the conviction of Mauricio Pochettino, who also noted that La Pulga continued to perform in selection (7 goals in 13 matches, 4th top scorer in the playoffs). The former Tottenham coach was thus delighted to Beginning to see the birth, in recent weeks, of a complicity between Messi, Neymar and Mbappé.A trio that has played very little together, between the long absence of the Brazilian (November-February) and the small glitches of the Argentinian. understand why alchemy was slow to be created.
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“We were waiting to see this from the start, but they weren’t always there at the same time, recalled Thierry Henry, on Prime Video, after the PSG card in Clermont (1-6). It’s their 14th game together, which isn’t a lot.“ But will Mbappé be there next year? This season, the Frenchman has, in any case, largely eclipsed Messi (only four goals in Ligue 1), who is no longer the providential man for his team for the first time since Ronaldinho’s decline at Barça.
A downgrade may not be easy to experience, but which should not make us forget that La Pulga and PSG have come together around a common interest: wanting to win the Champions League. It will not be for this year, and it also tarnishes the record of the six-time Ballon d’Or. For this first French exercise, he can however plead extenuating circumstances.
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