In hindsight, perspectives become more clear and opinions carry greater weight. Former England manager Fabio Capello, on the occasion of last Saturday’s Clasico, talked up Leo Messi’s injury-induced two-month-long absence as a situation that favoured Barcelona, but it wasn’t a situation both the player and Barca favoured when they faced it head first.
“Barcelona have been lucky with the injury to Lionel Messi. Neymar and Suarez have grown a lot without him. Before it was all Messi,” said Capello.
Instead of dwelling on their loss, the Barca management worked on taking the Messi injury as another problem which needed solving and struck proverbial gold. Since Messi’s injury in late September in a league game against Las Palmas, Barca’s attacking trident dwindled into just two.
The view that Barca have been lucky to have Messi injured is purely retrospective; back in September, there barely were celebratory narratives after Messi’s injury was diagnosed and his recovery dates were set. But of course, now that hindsight is available, we can mark Messi’s injury as a blessing in disguise.
It is easy to support Capello’s stance; since Messi’s injury, Neymar and Luis Suarez have taken the initiative which is normally expected of Messi, as one of Barca’s leaders on the pitch. Two-thirds of the MSN trident went about their business as usual in the intervening period of Messi’s injury, and accounted for 22 of 26 Barca goals in that period up until Messi entered the Bernabeu pitch in the 56th minute of the Clasico.
The fact both Neymar and Suarez have taken the leadership mantle in Messi’s absence is highlighted by Capello as well. “I’ve never seen Neymar run like that. With Brazil he makes runs of 15 metres. Here they were 50. That’s the difference too,” the Italian’s effusiveness in Neymar’s praise clear as a day. But can the absence of Messi, arguably the greatest player of his generation, be a blessing to any team?
Barca did well to turn Messi’s injury into their advantage solely because of the presence of two other world-class players in their ranks. If Messi was pulling all the attention towards himself, his injury seemingly gave the world a chance to witness how good his partners in crime were. Barca’s clockwork attack reached its pinnacle last season, and both Neymar and Suarez contributed to Barca’s cause as did Messi and the rest of the team.
The fact both Neymar and Suarez thrived in Messi’s absence is perhaps emblematic of the current Barca side. Responsibility is never shirked; instead, it is embraced. The rise to prominence of Neymar and Suarez was witnessed even last season when Barca marched towards the treble, and Messi’s absence only allowed them another chance to prove how things take care of themselves when there is a sense of togetherness between team-mates.
It is only in hindsight that we can salute the contributions of Neymar and Suarez; there was trepidation in the air when Messi went down clutching his left knee near the Las Palmas goal. Projections were being drawn which bordered on the negative and there were even suggestions how the first Clasico could become little more than a non-event in the title stakes for Barca.
Messi’s injury certainly wasn’t looked at as a blessing for Barca back then, but the status quo suggests it didn’t bear too heavy on the club. Barca improved their performances and results, which was expected after their jagged start to the season and, clearly, the most vivid positive coming out of Messi’s lull turned out to be the productivity of Neymar and Suarez, both of whom combined for 64 goals last season.
It was as if the world needed Messi’s injury to appreciate the two other thirds of MSN. If Capello suggests Barca were lucky that Messi got injured, then even he falls under the category of people who got too carried away with Messi to appreciate the other geniuses at Barca.
Last season’s treble was a great moment of glory for the trident as well as the team; how cruel the world needed an injury to Messi to see the bigger picture.