All the talk this season about Lionel Messi has been about this being a “poor season by his standards” and that he doesn’t influence games like he used to. Well, he sure had an influence tonight as he scored a hat-trick when Barcelona needed him most against rivals Real Madrid.
Barcelona went into the game four points behind both Athletico Madrid and neighbors Real — they had to win, no questions asked. They did exactly that and the majority of their thanks, although not exclusively, must go to Messi for it. His three goals tonight took his tally for the season to 21 La Liga goals in 22 matches — not bad for a guy struggling, I guess.
What really stands out, though, is that this wasn’t a team near the bottom of the league that Messi was playing against — and in the process grabbing three goals to boost his goal ratio. It was the biggest game, the biggest moment, under the biggest pressure and he delivered. Why would anybody doubt him at this point?
Two of Messi’s goals were penalties in the game, but everybody has seen players miss penalties, especially in a scenario like this where you simply have to score; the league was on the line, pretty much. That’s a testament to Messi the player, though, it’s not all in his feet, it’s in his head too. He prevails because of his extraordinary talent, yes, but also because of his mentality: the calmness, the confidence, the belief, the nervelessness.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Gareth Bale were all playing in the game also — the three most expensive players in the world. That they are, but there’s no doubt that Messi is still the one. He’s the best player in the world, still. On this stage, Ronaldo had the perfect opportunity to grab the spotlight and put Barcelona to the sword, personally — he didn’t do it. Neymar had the chance to prove that he is the new man to lead Barcelona, that he is worthy of being placed even alongside Messi, but he did not either. Bale too could have shown everybody just why he is the most expensive player in the world, be the difference, win the game for your team and put Barcelona into an unassailable position, but he too, did not do it. However, Messi did.
That’s why he is still the best player in the world. That’s why, despite injuries and questions about the way Barcelona now play under Tata Martino, he is still the biggest influence any team could have. He’s the ultimate difference-maker still. The talk recently has been that, amidst his “poor season,” Messi is struggling to come to terms with Barcelona on a new contract. That Barcelona are not so keen to put Messi on the kind of wage he thinks he deserves. Barcelona need to reconsider that stance. If Messi were to ever leave the Camp Nou, who would Barcelona turn to then? Who would have won this game against Real Madrid? Who would of scored the crucial second goal when they needed it to make it 2-2? Neymar?
Neymar did win a penalty for Messi to score, but his influence on the game outside of that was minimal. Messi has had better games too, but he still did enough for his team to get them what was necessary, like he almost always does. He was the difference, again. Barcelona should give Messi the contract he feels he deserves, even after a “poor season.” If they don’t, and Messi were to ever leave, then you never know, the term “poor season” might just become a lot more relevant than ever has been in regards to Messi.