Lionel Messi‘s latest injury has understandably caused a lot of hand-wringing in Barcelona, but one might notice a few wry smiles in Argentina.
Messi limped off the field 20 minutes into Barcelona’s La Liga (Spanish first division) game against Real Betis on Sunday. He’ll miss the next six to eight weeks of action, according to the BBC.
“The club’s medical services confirmed that Leo Messi has a torn hamstring muscle in his left thigh and is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks.
“The first phase of Messi’s recovery will be covered in Barcelona and he will then travel to Buenos Aires.”
The injury rules Messi out of Argentina’s final two games (against Ecuador and Bosnia) of 2013, and it’s likely that he won’t return to the field for Barcelona before the start of the new year.
However, his absence shouldn’t hinder the prospects of his club or national team. Argentina easily qualified for for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and the November exhibitions will allow head coach Alejandro Sabella to experiment with new players and tactics before the real job of fine-tuning Argentina ahead of next summer’s tournament begins next year.
Barcelona should be able to navigate its way through the next two months without the Argentine superstar. After the international break (Nov. 11-23) , Barcelona faces Grenada, Athletic Bilbao, Villareal and Getafe. While those four are impressively ninth, fifth, fourth and sixth in the La Liga standings, it would be a surprise if Barcelona dropped points against any of them. Such is the strength of the current Barcelona team relative to its domestic peers. Barcelona has also reached the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, reducing the importance of upcoming games against Ajax and Celtic. After Barcelona faces Getafe on Dec. 22, Spanish soccer takes a two-week winter break. Messi should be fit to return for Barcelona’s Jan. 5 game against Elche. Teammates and fans hope he will be firing a week later when Barcelona visits second-place Atletico Madrid.
Messi, 26, suffers the most from this hamstring tear. Aside from physical pain, he’ll undoubtedly be in agony because he can’t play. The absence, his third of the season, will also hurt him in the race for the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or. His name appears on the shortlist for this year’s award, but this injury could cost him now that voting season has begun. Although he has scored 14 goals in 14 games this season, it’s widely believed that his form has dipped in 2013-14. The fact that he hasn’t scored a league goal since Sept. 28 lends credence to that assessment.
Injuries have hampered Messi throughout 2013. A hamstring problem hobbled him before Barcelona fell to Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League semifinal, and thigh injuries interrupted his current campaign in August and September
Meanwhile, eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo has kept scoring at a relentless pace, and his club, Real Madrid, appears to be backing him for the 2013 Ballon d’Or with the full weight of its own institution. Then there’s Franck Ribery, whose outstanding performances have powered the all-conquering machine that is Bayern Munich. Messi has won world soccer’s most prestigious individual award for the last four years. Injuries and competition could prevent him from making it a five-peat.
Messi’s personal loss could be Argentina’s gain. Repeated absences in late 2013 (and perhaps in 2014) significantly lower the risk that he will be burned out when the World Cup kicks off on June 12 and, more importantly, ends on July 13. Argentina is among the favorites to win the World Cup, and a fresh Messi, in the prime years of his career, can only help his country’s pursuit of glory. Critics back home say Messi performs better for Barcelona than Argentina. His moment of truth will come in Brazil next summer, and he should be in position to meet expectations carrying only six months of wear and tear on his body — instead of the usual 10.
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