A not-so-fine Messi
Messi had been rested for Barcelona's previous match, a 4-2 league defeat to Atlético Madrid and coach
After the win over Celtic, which eased Barcelona's passage to the Champions League quarterfinals, Barça captain
"Messi's injury is a lesson to everyone," Puyol complained. "You [the media] pressured for him to play against Celtic and now look what has happened. What you have to do is show more respect for the medical staff and the coach."
Putting aside the fact that Puyol was, in effect, admonishing his own coach for giving in to media pressure (oh, to be a fly on the wall during his next conversation with Rijkaard!), his attack was more than just a knee-jerk reaction to losing a key player at a crucial stage of the season. He was also making a salient point about Messi's long-term development.
There would be few concerns about Messi if he had suffered a broken leg -- a painful injury but one that is easy to recover from. Yet his latest setback is already painfully familiar for Messi, having been sidelined for five weeks with the same injury earlier in the season.
As a footballer, Messi is a bundle of contradictions. His slender frame goes against the modern convention for footballers who can survive the physical rigors of European club soccer. The likes of
Messi's medical history is already complicated, having moved to Barcelona with his family at the age of 13 because the club agreed to fund a course treatment to overcome a growth-hormone deficiency. That Messi become a professional footballer at all is something of a miracle, let alone one to be compared with
This season, Messi has suffered the sort of minor injuries that shouldn't, when considered individually, be too much cause for concern. When considered collectively, though, they start to provide a more worrying picture.
In many ways Messi's emergence last season mirrors that of
Yet Owen has never possessed the tactical awareness that Messi has already demonstrated in a short career. Owen's greatest asset has always been his pace. Yet with that in decline following a series of injuries, Owen is now struggling at Newcastle and fighting to be accepted by new England manager
The fear for Messi that his long-term development will now mirror that of Owen who, though he was voted European Footballer of the Year in '01, has struggled to repeat the feats of France '98.
Messi is more of a complete footballer than Owen but has already had great -- possibly too great -- expectations placed upon his slender shoulders.