Lionel Messi’s ‘short bursts of effort’ in games help him maintain the same levels of performance he had as a younger player, according to his former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola.
The Barcelona star scored twice and assisted two more in his side’s 5-1 demolition of Real Valladolid on Tuesday night, as they returned to the top of La Liga.
With Messi turning 33 at the end of this season, talk of retirement will inevitably become a more frequent topic and Guardiola feels the Argentine's current way of playing is for his own benefit.
"One day Messi will retire and Barca will cope with that,” Guardiola told Catalunya Radio. “What needs to be prepared is the space for the statue, the way to pay tribute to him like [Laszlo] Kubala or Johan [Cruyff], and I've no doubt they'll find it.
"Stars need to run like anyone else, if not the team can't cope, you need to convince them to run. Sometimes, you say to them 'I won't make you run 40 metres like the 20-year-old athlete in the team, but give me a reason not to run'.
“If someone doesn't run, but scores three goals every game I can buy that, but nobody scores three goals a game, only Messi comes close.
“Right now, you need to ask Messi to make short bursts of effort. He can't run for the sake of running, no way. If Leo ran like he ran in his first season with me he'd be injured every three months. Managing legends of 30 and above is the hardest thing for a coach."
Messi put in a trademark performance of these short, concentrated bursts of quality against Valladolid, all but deciding the game in two quick-fire spells.
He assisted Arturo Vidal to put Barca ahead in the 29th minute before doubling the advantage with a stunning free kick five minutes later, the 50th of his career. With the game petering out, he then hammered in a second goal and assisted for Luis Suarez in the space of three second-half minutes, though he did miss a last-gasp chance for a first hat-trick of the season.
As a sign of Barca’s enduring reliance on their greatest ever player, the performance was a fitting one. For Guardiola, it was a reminder of the main man in his Barca side which won him the first major titles of his managerial career.
"There are great coaches who have won nothing because they didn't have Messi,” he added. “I was lucky enough to have him, and Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta and Dani Alves and [Gerard] Pique. And what's more, at the perfect age.
"There is not one player who doesn't think about defending at all, but you have to adapt to the qualities of your players.
“When Barcelona played better it was with [Michael] Laudrup at false nine and then Messi.
"I tried it at Bayern Munich, but there wasn't a player who could dribble past three players and then score, so we had to look for alternatives."