No player likes to be substituted. And if you’re Lionel Messi, you don’t have to be. This Saturday, Messi appeared to refuse to come off when Luis Enrique tried to substitute him after he’d put Barcelona 3-0 over Eibar.
In the middle of a four-game scoring streak, it’s not surprising he didn’t want to exit, but the 27-year-old has played every minute of every match for Barcelona so far this season. It hardly seemed unreasonable that Enrique wanted to give him a rest for the last 15 minutes of a game Barcelona had already won.
Why risk injury? Why court fatigue? Especially given the short summer rest in a World Cup year?
Presumably Messi is fully aware of the La Liga golden boot race, which even at this early stage shows him on seven goals, Neymar on eigh …and Cristiano Ronaldo on 15 (which is more than 16 La Liga clubs).
This time last year, Messi had already been substituted three times by Enrique’s predecessor, Tata Martino (once through injury). But Enrique seems to want to manage by consensus.
“What happened can be interpreted in many ways,” Enrique told reporters. Though how many ways can video of Enrique shouting to Messi, gesturing towards the bench, then ultimately taking off Neymar instead be interpreted, really? It’s not the Zapruder film.
“I have to take everything into account but I trust in how he feels and what he tells me. During the course of the season he’ll be rested but it is a special moment for the team and for him,” said Enrique.
“Sometimes I look around me on the bench and think how lucky we are to have Messi. For us it is not just about what he does on the pitch. He is also a great motivator for his teammates and having him in the form he is in and adding that to the others is wonderful. It is a pleasure to work with these players.”
You could take this as a sign of Messi’s drive and enthusiasm, or as a rare moment of diva behavior. Given Barcelona’s current position at the head of the standings, it’s the sort of moment that’s easy to shrug off. But if it had happened with Barça sitting lower in the table, it would doubtless have been held up as a troubling example of managerial weakness.
Who’us the real boss at Barca, anyway – Messi or Enrique?
Messi, obviously. Coaches can be changed easily but genius is irreplaceable. And it seems like the forward knows it.