By Ben Hayward in Barcelona
Lionel Messi was all smiles. Yet another award in his hands, the Argentine attacker looked positive and upbeat as he accepted his latest honour: the European Golden Shoe.
This most recent prize, however, came shrouded in symbolism: not only does it represent his supreme scoring prowess (the award is for most league goals - 46 - in a single season across Europe in 2012-13), but it also serves as a reminder that, despite his brilliance, Messi is a mere mortal whose body was pushed to the limits in pursuit of such accolades and records.
The Barca forward's sensational scoring at the end of 2012 saw the Argentine set a new record for goals in a calendar year (91), while he also managed to net in an incredible 19 rounds in a row in La Liga (21 if you don't count the matches he subsequently missed through injury).
Barca claimed the Primera Division in style by equalling Real Madrid's record points haul of 100 from the previous campaign, yet the Catalans had the title sewn up early on following a scintillating start. They then lost out to Madrid in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey and were humbled by Bayern Munich (7-0 on aggregate) in the last four of the Champions League. When it mattered most, Messi was either out of sorts or missing altogether.
|MESSI TO MISS NEXT EIGHT GAMES
|Granada (h)||Nov 23
|Cartagena (h)||Dec 17||Copa|
|Getafe (a)||Dec 22||Liga|
Leo was claiming the award for the third time, but with just eight goals in La Liga this term and a spell on the sidelines to come until January, he is unlikely to regain the award next year.
No matter. The lessons appear to have been learned because Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino (who celebrated his 51st birthday on Wednesday as he watched Messi pick up the Golden Shoe) has rested his prize player at times this season - in an albeit unsuccessful bid to avoid a recurrence of his muscle problems.
Had previous coach Tito Vilanova and interim boss Jordi Roura done the same, Messi may not have been injured in the first place, but the Argentine was asked to play twice in a matter of days for the Catalan club after competing at altitude in Bolivia and broke down against Paris Saint-Germain in early April.
Eight months on, Messi is out with his fourth muscle injury of 2013. Rushed back into action too hastily last season and again this time around following injuries picked up against Atletico Madrid and Almeria, the Argentine has now been given eight weeks by Barca to return in tip-top condition next year.
"My aim is to return and to return in good shape," Messi explained on Wednesday. "I will come back when the time is right and when I do, I hope it is free from injuries."
Awards such as the Golden Shoe are great, but the team takes priority - as Messi always says. So health comes first for Leo now. Player and club must manage his fitness with care and caution to ensure he is around when it matters most - at the business end of the season. And if he can stay in shape, the records and prizes will keep coming anyway. It's a win-win situation.
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