Luis Enrique must bench Lionel Messi to avoid recurrent injury

Barcelona is in the midst of a “Messi” situation. Only a couple of seasons ago, Messi insisted upon starting in every match of a hectic end-of-season campaign despite struggling with recurrent hamstring issues. In the end, Messi was far from his best for much longer than he should have been, and the team was eliminated from the Champions League with a 4-0 route at the hands of FC Bayern Munchen. A less-than-100% Lionel forced himself to play in that game, and it would not be unreasonable to believe the team could have fared better if a healthy striker was fielded in Messi’s place.

In an unfortunate instance of déjà vu, a similar scenario is in the making. Before the international break, Messi got a groin injury, but he travelled to play for the Argentinian national team despite the admonitions against it by Barcelona doctors. Although Messi has played a couple of matches since, there is no denying that sitting out for the upcoming match against Leganes on Saturday would help him achieve full recovery -- especially considering the Catalans will face the ever-challenging Atletico Madrid on Wednesday 21st September.

Barcelona have an average of a match every three days for most of the month. The Catalans' upcoming schedule, as per, is simply too much for Messi's aching body to deal with. 

Despite his recent injury, it is clear that Messi will insist upon playing in every Barcelona match unless he is unable to walk. Luis Enrique must put his foot down once and for all. The Asturian manager has a prime opportunity to put bad habits to rest. A good determining factor of the quality of a club is the way it cares for its players, and, in Messi’s sake, FC Barcelona has some improvements to make. 

There are a few obvious truths that factor into this conundrum. Lionel Messi is undoubtedly among the top of the world's players. Of course, no club wants to see him leave. Of course, there are clubs that would allow be so happy to have Messi on their roster that they would allow him to do anything. 

Nevertheless, one factor that can be absolutely corrosive to athletic success is untreated injury. Messi might be a far better player than his colleagues, but he is still human. If humans do not properly care for medical problems, the problems gradually become more serious until they become debilitating.

Like every other footballer on the planet, Messi chose his profession because he loves football. Of course, Messi would love to play in as many matches as he could, but somebody has to be the voice of reason -- And the ball is firmly in Luis Enrique's court.

Unfortunately, national teams tend to do footballers a disservice when it comes to caring for their health because the national teams tend to have urgent, short-term objectives and they do not have to deal with the long-term aftereffects of injured or exhausted players. (It would be remiss not to note that the Argentinian FA did not allow Messi to play in one of the two games he could have played in during the international break. Nevertheless, he joined his country’s team with his groin injury, so he really shouldn’t have played at all, to be honest)

To allow Messi to play while ignoring his recent injury would be a self-serving, short-sighted decision for FC Barcelona to make. The club should look out for the best interest of their player. If they were to allow Messi to continue shortening his career by aggravating injuries, they would be doing not only Messi, but the entire footballing world, a gross disservice. 

Allowing Messi to do as he pleases would also set a very dangerous precedent that some players are bigger than the club and can thus act without consequences. For a team with several world class players, that precedent could cause plenty of strife.

Luis Enrique must be the voice of reason. To do otherwise would be spineless and careless. It would imply that the club’s decision makers are so afraid of angering Messi that they would act the best interests of both the club and the player.

For Messi’s health and the dignity as well as long term benefit of the club, the No.10 must rest until he is truly healthy enough to return to the field.