For Lionel Messi,time is the best medicine in World Cup year

Barcelona and Argentina will do well to wait for the 27-year old to return to full fitness.

Written by New York Times | New York | Published:January 5, 2014 3:23 am

Welcome back,Lionel Messi,when you are good and ready.

Your 50-day absence is the longest separation since you arrived at Barcelona at 13. In exchange for your quality,shown even at that age,the club agreed to pay the medical bills to help you overcome growth hormone deficiency.

The management,the medics and the players sharing your time at La Masia,Barcelona’s academy,knew what was coming long before you lined up in the first team alongside Ronaldinho,Xavi Hernandez,Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol in 2005.

You were 17 at the time. Your progress at Barca and with Argentina’s national team since has been a continuous story of growing delight.

Your 16 trophies with Barcelona came with the most intense,at times the most beautiful,soccer most of us may ever see. Your 91 goals during 2012 broke the record set four decades earlier in Germany by Gerd Muller.

He was a goal machine. You are so much more — a winger,a striker,a playmaker,anything you want to be. Your four Ballons d’Or for the world player of each year from 2009 to 2012 could become five when the award is announced Jan. 13. Only three are in the frame: Cristiano Ronaldo,Franck Ribery and you.

This despite your injury layoff,much of it spent in retreat in Rosario,Argentina. You returned to training on Thursday,with the team’s first game of the calendar year coming Sunday against Elche.

The hamstring tear on Nov. 10 was the last of several muscle ailments that you said had come because of bad luck. But medical experts who have had hands-on experience with you have said the breakages may have been caused by your body being pushed beyond reason.

If we count your 427 games,and 338 goals,for Barca alone,it would sum up a lifetime achievement packed into a career possibly only now at halftime. You also have 83 games and 37 goals for Argentina,against opponents far bigger and more physical than the 5-foot-7,150-pound body you possess.

Pressure everywhere

Most of them are not quick enough to catch you. But they try. All your quick bursts,all the twisting and turning,the darting movements you use to escape being caught and to emerge,magically,with the ball,put pressure on the sinews.

Sales and marketing people cannot get enough of you. You and your father,Jorge,were summoned to court in September,followed by allegations that your father had used foreign bank accounts to launder money.

The drawback of fame,perhaps. But one might only imagine the calls on your time,the distractions,the sycophancy,the line of multinational companies seeking to buy into your image. And the commitments that you undertake for your charitable foundation.

Clearly,you take pride in financing a youth setup for your original club,Newell’s Old Boys,and in donating 4 million Argentine pesos,about $611,000,to a children’s hospital in Rosario.

Barcelona has not fallen apart in your absence. Neymar has grown somewhat into your space. Pedro signed off 2013 with a hat-trick. Barca leads the league.

Other clubs may covet you.

But first things first. The next big challenge is the Champions League,against Manchester City,in February

You have the skills to be up there with Diego Maradona,even with Pele. But because you turn 27 in June,this could be your best shot at winning the World Cup,as they did.

Return carefully. Think of your own words when injury struck last November: “There’s no need to look for things that don’t exist,” you said. “I’ll play all I need to — when my body says it’s O.K.”

In a season elongated by the World Cup,please,do not let eagerness push you too hard,too soon.

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