Has Lionel Messi’s presence affected the Barcelona careers of other attacking players?The presence of one player can often be to the detriment of another. Lionel Messi is a great player, perhaps the greatest of all time, and it is then no surprise that in their attempts to give him more freedom, managers have maligned some of the other prodigious talents in the team. His preference for a floating role, has seen him rove all around the pitch in search of the ball, and it has been left to the others playing with him to accordingly make defensive adjustments.There's a multitude of players who can feel aggrieved for being sidelined due to the presence of Messi. Here's a list of the 5 most famous names to be afflicted.
#1 Alexis Sanchez
It wasn't until his last season at Barcelona, that he was considered anything other than a flop. Sanchez, prior to his move to Barcelona, had built a reputation for being a tricky little player, with the ability to run circles around defenders, while also having the pace to get behind defenses. At Barcelona, his specialty was taken away from him as managers coaxed him into Messi's shadow.
Sanchez, a player who thrives on freedom, was asked to sit deeper, dribble less and pass the ball more while at Barca. He was also asked to shoot less. It wasn't until his last season at Barca, when Messi spent time nursing an injury, that he truly came to the fore. He scored the second highest goals for Barcelona and was only fourth in the league, behind Ronaldo, Messi and Diego Costa.
Sanchez was criminally under appreciated while at Barcelona. There is a rumour which suggests that there was an altercation between Messi and Sanchez, where Messi, vexed by Sanchez's inclination to take on defenders and shoot, said: "Considering how bad you are, I've no idea how you cost so much."
The authenticity of those rumors cannot be proven, but it does give credence to the theories suggesting Sanchez was repressed on the pitch and restricted from showing his wonderfully brilliant colors because of his more gifted and illustrious team mate. He ultimately, decided to call time on his Barcelona career, and has since flourished at Arsenal.
#2 Samuel Eto\'o
Eto'o has achieved much in his career, but more than anything else he has earned antipathy. He's had a history of hostility with managers and players, the likes of Ronaldinho, Frank Rijkaard and Mourinho spring to mind, but these clashes never amounted to much, always ending up as another passing clash of egos till one day, he clashed with Pep Guardiola.
Eto'o never had a working relationship with Guardiola to begin with. He always felt under appreciated and made his feelings known to the press. He griped with the fact that he was being sidelined for Messi despite being such an integral cog in the team that won the treble in Guardiola's first season.
Eto'o grew disillusioned towards the end of the 2008-2009 campaign when he was shifted out wide to accommodate Messi centrally. His new peripheral role also saw his request for an improved contract rejected. Ultimately, he was forced out by Guardiola who thought him to be too much of a disruption because he insisted on flaring these issues in the press.
#3 Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Ibrahimovic is a title winning machine. He's the man with the golden touch. However, his time wasn't so much golden as it was rotten at Barcelona. He spent a miserable season at Barcelona, which started well, but ended up with him being loaned out to AC Milan at the end of the season.
He was bought for a hefty 45 million euros + Samuel Eto'o in exchange. The transfer and the amount of effort Barcelona had put into getting it done showed that they considered him to be an important acquisition, and for the first few matches he was. He started the season as the team's main striker and showed why he was considered an elite in the game by scoring 7 goals in his first 7 starts. But things slowly started to sour. As stated in his autobiography:
"It was a childhood dream and I was walking on air, it started well but then Messi started to talk. He wanted to play in the middle, not on the wing, so the system changed from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1. I was sacrificed and no longer had the freedom on the pitch I need to succeed."
Enraged at being transformed to a journeyman, especially at the behest of a team mate, Ibrahimovic constantly clashed with the manager, even to the point of intimidating him and shouting abuse at him. It ended with him being transferred to AC Milan as soon as possible.
Many consider him to be a beneficiary of Messi's presence. It is believed that Pedro is a sub-par player benefiting from the quality of players around him, but nothing could be farther from the truth.
Pedro has spent most of his career being shunted about to allow other players room to develop. Messi's rise and subsequent demands to play through the middle has caused much consternation in his career with different managers experimenting with his position differently to get the best out of him.
He made his debut in 2008, and despite not suffering any major injuries in his career, he hasn't yet started 30 or more games in the league in any single season. He's primarily a right footed player but Messi's inclination to drift right has seen him play on the left wing. His hopes of playing as a striker too, have been dashed, permanently.
#5 David Villa
David Villa, arguably, Spain's greatest striker could never really get going in Spain's greatest club team. He spent quite some time out injured, and when he wasn't he would warm the bench, watching, as his team mates did what he loved best, plunder goals.
Villa encountered the same problems at Barca as his predecessors. Overshadowed by the skill of Messi, he was relegated to playing on the wing and later denied even that as Messi preferred more mobile players to play out wide. But unlike Eto'o and Ibrahimovic, Villa never complained; always praising his team mates for their success. His time at Barcelona saw his stock as one of the most lethal strikers in the world drop and he was left picking up the tatters of his reputation at Atletico Madrid, where he again proved his value by winning the title.