Lionel Messi

A perfect integration of a footballer in a team means to maximise his capacities and compensate for his limitations or conditioning factors through the collective. Although a perfect integration does not exist per se, since a player’s capacities and weaknesses are not fixed but variable.

Lionel Messi has almost no limitations but a few conditioning factors. He needs to be permanently involved in the game, so a lot of passes and influence must go through him. Despite starting from the right wing, his tendency is to drift inside towards the centre, where there is more action and he has more options. The distances he covers must be short but impactful. He can press but when the team is high and compact and his duties are very specific.

No coach has achieved to integrate Messi into his side better than Pep Guardiola — as should surprise no one, with him being second to none at understanding the talents he has to work with. The false 9 ensured structural symmetry: winger—false 9—winger rather than winger—striker—10. That and the high, tight block made the Argentinian participate in the pressing.

And there was permanent width with natural wingers instead of the full-backs having to provide it. He had runners in front, with the likes of Pedro and David Villa, that generated him space and diagonal passing options; and he also had teammates in close proximity, like Andrés Iniesta and Xavi. Messi’s maturity and reading of the game has made every Barça side since be shaped around his figure, but no one managed to make the relationship as fluid as Guardiola.

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