PSG's forward Lionel looks at coach Mauricio Pochettino as he leaves the pitch during the French L1 football match. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP
PSG's forward Lionel looks at coach Mauricio Pochettino as he leaves the pitch during the French L1 football match. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP

Managers who accept Lionel Messi as the king will get the best from him

By Mark Keohane Time of article published Sep 26, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - Managerial insecurities and attempts at power plays when it comes to soccer’s superstar Lionel Messi have never ended well for those managers who believe they have to show Messi they are in charge of the team. Those managers who accept Messi as the king and determine their strategy to get the best out of the king have plenty of silverware to show for it.

Former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola flourished in tandem with Messi. Pep never missed an opportunity to tell the world Messi was the best player and he treated Messi with the reverence that he was the best. In turn Messi produced performance after performance of unrivalled brilliance to prove he was the best.

Managers of the Argentina national team have clashed on occasion with Messi and they didn’t stick around to plead their case.

Now it is another Argentinean, Mauricio Pochettino, Paris-St Germain’s manager, who delivered a message of intent that Messi is not above him, as manager, or any other player in his squad, when he substituted Messi in the 76th minute in the player’s first home start in the French Division One.

Messi, who earlier had struck the woodwork with a trademark free-kick, was disgusted, exchanged a word with Pochettino and barely raised an eyebrow when PSG scored the winner in injury time.

To say Messi was not happy, was an understatement. He was livid.

In the days that followed, Pochettino tried to play down the substitution, saying Messi had indicated he had hurt his knee and that it was an injury substitution. However, immediately after the game the narrative was that there were 35 world-class players in the squad and that as manager, he made decisions that were best for the team and not just one individual, even if it was Messi.

Ronald Koeman, when he took over at Barcelona two seasons ago, tried to play mind games with Messi. He told the Spanish media Messi would have to fit into the way he wanted Barcelona to play. It proved a disaster and it took Koeman to concede any form of success would be determined by Messi’s contentment.

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With Messi in charge, Barcelona recovered and should have won the league. They stumbled in the final three matches, but it was not down to Messi who still ended the season as the La Liga top goal scorer and with more assists than most had goals.

When Barcelona and Messi couldn’t agree terms to keep Messi among the Catalans for the rest of his career, PSG got Messi’s signature and paid an obscene amount of money for him to go to Paris.

But if Paris is the City of Love, there doesn’t appear to be much love between Pochettino and Messi, and the PSG supporters have only seen glimpses of the Messi magic in two starts and one substitute appearance.

Transfer market details that since 2010, Messi has only ever been subbed out of a game nine times for non-injury reasons and in all those nine matches, Messi had scored and Barcelona were comfortably winning the game.

Below illustrates just how comfortable the leads were when Messi was called from the field:

Messi substitutions since 2010

– Jan 9, 2021: Messi was subbed out in the 65th minute vs Granada. At the time of the substitution Messi had scored twice and Barcelona were leading 4-0.

– Jan 11, 2018: Messi was subbed out in the 59th minute vs Celta Vigo. At the time of the substitution Messi had scored twice and Barcelona were leading 4-0.

– April 26, 2017: Messi was subbed out in the 63rd minute vs Osasuna. At the time of the substitution Messi had scored twice and Barcelona were leading 4-1.

– March 1, 2017: Messi was subbed out in the 61st minute vs Sporting Gijón. At the time of the substitution Messi had scored once and Barcelona were leading 5-1.

– Feb 4, 2017: Messi was subbed out in the 64th minute vs Athletic Bilbao. At the time of the substitution Messi had scored once and Barcelona were leading 2-0.

– Jan 17, 2016: Messi was subbed out in the 45th minute vs Athletic Bilbao. At the time of the substitution Messi had scored once and Barcelona were leading 2-0.

– Oct 21, 2014: Messi was subbed out in the 66th minute vs Ajax. He had scored once and Barcelona were tied 1-1. Barcelona were in control of the game and went on to win 3-1.

– Jan 24, 2013: Messi was subbed out in the 83rd minute vs Málaga. At the time of the substitution Messi had scored once and Barcelona were leading 4-2.

– Jan 12, 2011: Messi was subbed out in the 86th minute vs Real Betis. At the time of the substitution Messi had scored a hat-trick with Barcelona leading 5-0.

Pochettino said Messi had no issue with being yanked, but that was a lie because the visuals of Messi’s reaction don’t lie.

Which manager substitutes arguably the greatest player to have ever played the game? Historically none.

Pochettino made a power play, 76 minutes into that first home start, and it may prove to be his most naïve call yet as a manager.

Make no mistake, if it comes to Messi telling the owners it is Pochettino or me, I know which Argentinean will be sent packing from Paris, and it won’t be the little magician in the No 30 PSG shirt.

@Mark_Keohane

IOL Sport

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