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02nd May 2019

Lionel Messi’s cruel brilliance shows why he should avoid management

Lionel Messi’s ability to change a game when he pleases shows us why management would be too cruel a career path for him to pursue

Reuben Pinder

Lionel Messi continues to raise the already sky high bar, his legacy should never be tarnished

On Wednesday night, two titans of European football met at Camp Nou. Barcelona and Liverpool, with their contrasting but equally respected styles of play, played out a chaotic, intense, 90 minutes of football. Both teams caused problems for one another – the statistics indicate that Liverpool should have won, with more possession and more shots – but Barcelona emerged 3-0 victors. How? You already know the answer: Lionel Messi.

The Argentine delivered yet another masterclass to drag Barcelona to victory against – on paper – their toughest opponents of the season. With just eight minutes left, Messi won Barcelona a free-kick in the middle of Liverpool’s half. A considerable distance out and almost bang in the middle of the pitch, shooting seemed like the least sensible option. Unless you’ve got Messi, of course.

As he caressed the ball past a helpless Liverpool wall, with just the right combination of finesse and power, time seemed to slow down as the ball travelled 40 yards, landing in the top left corner of Alisson’s goal. Liverpool players let out a collective shrug, as if to say ‘well what the fuck are we meant to do against that?’. Exhausted, exasperated, they had done all they could to stop the world’s best from doing as he pleased, but that is seldom enough to halt Messi in full flow.

No blame should be levelled at Jurgen Klopp, who will be encouraged by the statistics as well his team’s fight, calmness under pressure and execution of his demanding game plan. He will be especially encouraged by such a performance in the absence of key man Roberto Firmino, who leads the famous gegenpress from the front.

Liverpool could not have even dreamed of putting up this much of a fight against Barcelona before Klopp arrived. Even under Rodgers in that season, their defence would have crumbled like an old Wensleydale. Imagine Jon Flanagan trying to defend against Messi.

If we learned anything after Wednesday night, other than the fact that Messi is so good that it’s futile to compare him to regular, human footballers, it’s that the unforgiving nature of management shouldn’t be underestimated. Even the best managers in the game can find themselves helpless to stop the tide when wave after wave of Messi-orchestrated attacks have pinned their defence back.

Liverpool’s defeat to Barcelona means they are now likely to finish the season with no silverware to show for their immense effort and success in both the Premier League and the Champions League. If both Liverpool and Manchester City win their remaining games in the league, Klopp’s side will finish second on 97 points. For context, Arsenal’s Invincibles side won the league with 90 points in 2004.

But this is just the reality for managers. There’s no meritocracy; a team can train, perfect a system, execute their game plan to the tee and then be undone by a generational talent like Messi.

It is performances like the one against Liverpool – ruthless, efficient and almost brash in its cruelty – which should leave us hoping that this little Argentine wizard never delves into the cruel world of football management.

The beauty of Messi’s genius is that no logical reasoning can explain it and that would likely create more problems than it would solve if he were to become a coach. Watching him struggle to come to terms with the fact that his number 10 can’t just whip a perfectly weighted ball over to an onrushing full-back 45 yards away as he used to do, five times per game, would be painful.

As a player Messi possesses the almost non-existent gift of looking at a game, seeing that it isn’t going his way, decide he wants to change it in his favour, and do exactly that in an instant.

As a manager, you don’t have that level of control.

Having a crack at management would not risk tarnishing how we remember the greatest footballer to grace this planet. Messi’s legacy as a player is already secure, preserved in amber for the next generation to watch and wish they had seen it in the flesh.

What it does risk however is changing how we view him in the proceeding years. Roy Keane is perhaps the best example of this. One of the most competitive midfielders in the world during his playing career, the former Manchester United captain struggled to achieve the same success when managing players less skilled than he was. It showed us that Keane was human, for a demigod like Messi, that fall would be even greater.

When we are explaining his genius to our grandkids, do we want to have to to explain some ill-fated spell in charge of Barcelona B, or do we want to marvel at his mazy dribbles, as he left players in his wake in a heap on the ground, his 682 (and counting) goals that defy physics, and the effortlessness with which he conquered the sport we all love?