Psychological Messidependencia

Some things you just know.

We knew Barça was going to successfully mount the Milan remuntada after Messi scored that absurd, phone booth bit of impossibility, a goal beyond the imagination of not only the four men bracketing him but the keeper, us folks watching at home and pretty much everybody else. It was inspirational even as sport is rife with cliche, none more more annoying than the one about a player being an inspiration to his teammates.

Yet for all of the talk about what kind of player Lionel Messi is and the goals that he scores, less time is spent on the mental aspect of Messidependencia, the one thing that makes him absolutely crucial. It underscores the fairly massive understatement that Lionel Messi will be the most important person on the pitch for Barça as the quest for the impossible begins against PSG, but not just for his football.

Luis Enrique essentially answered, “No shit,” to the assertion that he had Messidependencia. The only real way to deal with Messidependencia is to not have the player available, forcing Barça to learn to play without him. If Messi is on the pitch, everyone looks to him, and the team goes as he goes.

In the first leg against PSG, Messi couldn’t be arsed, and neither could most of his teammates. The 4-0 was generous. It could have been worse. Sphinx Messi was present, and Barça was doomed. It isn’t even that his output is absent but rather, his psychological effect is gone.

Compare that with the Celta match on the weekend. Messi was electric from the outset, that absurd goal that he scored just icing on the cake of a brilliant, engaged, intense performance. The team picked up on that, and Celta didn’t have a chance.

The mind strains to think of a match where a barely ambulatory, stone-faced Messi didn’t lead to a similarly drab performance by his teammates, even as some of those matches — well, most — resulted in victories. It’s hard to argue with the kind of quality that Barça brings to the pitch.

Recall the 1970 NBA playoffs, New York Knicks against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Knicks’ best player, Willis Reed, was wrestling with an injury. It was assumed he wouldn’t play. But when the starting lineups were announced, there came Reed, limping, face frozen in a determined grimace. The Lakers were done, the Knicks were elevated and sport was captivated. For Barça, Messi is that. Every match, every minute.

What’s crazy is that the lineup, no matter who Luis Enrique chooses to roll out, is studded with some of the best players in the world, assassins. And they all look to a pint-sized man, a dude who would languish on the sidelines of local field pickup matches if you didn’t know who he was. And it’s crucial.

Mentality counts for a lot in spoort, the belief — collective belief — that something good can happen. Everyone has to believe, and something has to happen that makes the other team stop believing. When the New England Patriots came back against the Atlenta Falcons, the shift is difficult to pinpoint, even now, but it was real. The Patriots started to believe, and the Falcons stopped believing.

Against Milan, Barça had two goals before it all really sunk in. Niang hit the post because he didn’t quite believe. Belief is a quality that comes from many places, but on great teams, it needs a talismanic player. The Chicago Bulls weren’t crap before and after Michael Jordan solely because of player quality. Jordan hated to lose, and that quality infused every player on the team. Each of them was elevated by his mere presence. Great players bring a psychological edge that buttresses even bench warmers. They don’t want to let down the man. But the Messi effect goes beyond even that when he is on the pitch.

So today, watch Messi. Watch him in the warmup, watch his face, watch the hop in his step. The remuntada is impossible. It’s a 4-goal bridge too far to an excellent Paris St.-Germain team. But if the greatest player in the history of the game is connected, fully connected, physically and psychologically, PSG should worry. And so should history.

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Written by:

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.

34 Comments

  1. Rami
    March 8, 2017

    It’s odd that your article is about psychological messi dependencia, Coincidentally hours before a crucial PSG return leg in camp nou, But you forgot to remember a major event that embodies everything you just wrote.

    The infamous, Half fit (Half legged) messi sub that was happened 4 years ago, Our team 1-0 down against PSG in camp nou, And messi comes in, And changes the feel of the whole team, I still remember it to this day, It’s unimaginable how his presence alone can cause such an effect, I remember a famous reporter (can’t remember his name) wrote an article explaining why messi is the greatest, after witnessing messi on that day.
    But enough talking, How about we watch it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DKKn6mPozk

    • Davour
      March 8, 2017

      Yeah, that was an insane moment; you could see the fear creep into the eyes and moves of the opponent, and hope emerging amongst his own teammates. Unheard of, that influence.

  2. Rami
    March 8, 2017

    I feel butterflies in my stomach, Oh god i’m nervous.
    The chesscake i just ate, Made things worse.

    Make us proud!

  3. lala10
    March 8, 2017

    If Barca are to progress we need to play a back four. A back three will be ripped apart.

    • Rami
      March 8, 2017

      Having four at the back, Yet getting bombarded by waves of PSG attacks is a losing strategy, I believe that’s what happened in the first leg, And those four at the back were helpless in stopping them.

      Numerical superiority in the midfield is the best way to keep the ball away from PSG and their wingers, The best defense is offense.

  4. lala10
    March 8, 2017

    Yay. Masche in the right of a back three? No Jordi Alba?

    Its going to be one hell of a match.

  5. March 8, 2017

    Last night somebody called me at 4:00 AM. My ringtone is the audio of Alfredo Martinez of the Barça – Bayern. “Attention center, Messi’s going.. GOL!!!” Golololololololol!!!!” at full max in the darkness and quiet of my hotel suite. I didn’t manage to go to sleep after that, which let me watch Lucho’s presser.

    As I watched it, something gripped me… I will really, really miss Lucho’s attitude come June. I will miss his no=nonsense attitude and hard-nosed personality. I will miss his refusals to bow down and cater to the press. But while I watched the presser, I remembered a line from a poem.

    “Do not go gently into that good night.
    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

    I will love this coach, this team, come what may.after today. I owe them that much for all the joy, the agony and the ecstasy they’ve given me.

    I will not be able to watch the match, because I am working… But even as I type these words, under my “casual business” attire I have my Barça teeshirt and my Barça socks and I have Barça in my heart.

    We shall not go gently into that good night.

    Here we go.

    • Problem
      March 8, 2017

      “Do not go gently into that good night.
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

      I literally said that at my television when Neymar scored the free kick.

      This is the most exhilarating match of sportsball I’ve ever seen.

  6. Víctor
    March 8, 2017

    2 – 0 at half time… with a bit of luck, but half of the job is done… come on, guys, this is looking very promising now…

  7. untoxgsd
    March 8, 2017

    They scored….. whatever happens tonight i dont care. Im very proud of them!
    Visca el barca forever! No team in the world can bring you so much joy and emotions like they have!!
    No score at least one more!!

  8. Rami
    March 8, 2017

    I am proud to be a cule……………

  9. PPos
    March 8, 2017

    That was just as sweet as Stamford Bridge. Gracies equip!

  10. Problem
    March 8, 2017

    RIP MY VOCAL CORDS

    BUT WHO CARES

    VISCA BARÇAAA

  11. untoxgsd
    March 8, 2017

    Yeeeeeeeees!!!! Visca visca visca!!!!
    The last goal found me in my aparment crying without a shirt on!!!!

  12. TITO
    March 8, 2017

    The face of my son and the tears in his eyes summed up my feelings tonight.

  13. March 8, 2017

    I’ve lost my voice. I am in tears. My GF officially thinks I am insane. Fuck I love this team,

  14. Tata2
    March 8, 2017

    when it was 5-1, I put off my internet and I said oh God I know this is just a game but come through for us else it will wreck me down. I wont be able to sleep tonight. Lord please do it for me. I put on my internet and it was 6-1 and I bursted into tears

  15. dl
    March 8, 2017

    Good Lord! That was really quite the match! Speechless, and really happy I got to see it.

  16. PPos
    March 8, 2017

    I saw that game next to my grandfather who inculcated my love of Barca at a young age when we moved into his house. I was 10 then, now I’m 23, I know we will win the Champions League this season. This team won’t let this sacrifice go to waste, I know it.

  17. socrates
    March 8, 2017

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light., and then some.
    Pandemonium!

  18. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    March 8, 2017

    .
    OH MY FUCKING GOD!
    THIS CANT BE. IT JUST. CANT BE.

    what a rollercoaster of emotions! and how absolutely dreamlike and funny this actually is.

    at the start of the day i was actually feeling really good about this, getting a strong feeling and confidence even, that we were gonna qualify. by scoring 6 goals!

    after cavani’s goal, i cant tell you how much my heart sank.

    THANK YOU BARCA FOR REMINDING ME WHY I FELL IN LOVE WITH THIS GAME!
    AND YOU!

    UN-F****IN-BELIEEEEVABLE!

  19. xris
    March 8, 2017

    as Isaiah said : it will be fun to watch as the result is so much against us. and fun it was. it was

  20. georgjorge
    March 8, 2017

    I didn’t believe. At all. Not at the beginning, not after PSG scored their goal.

    I was never so happy to be wrong.

  21. *~ Dumangõli - Oüdyaar, Aisalangådi ~*
    March 8, 2017

    Neymar.
    your time has officially started.
    the role of official resident magician in camp nou is a heavy crown.
    ronaldinho. messi. and now –

    you.
    Neymar Jr.
    Gracias.

    Ter stegen, gracias. Zubizaretta, gracias..

    Lucho.
    Lucho, oh Lucho, you beauty,

    This was a total Luis enrique type of win.
    minimal flair. lots of hard nosed pure grit and determination. And effort.

    What. A GAME!

  22. March 8, 2017

    Every player on the pitch was incredible. They all played their part in this, but 3 future barca legends and leaders were born today: Neymar, Ter Stegen and Umtiti. Neymar gets motm and rightfully so but the other two were warriors today. On this stage, under these circumstances. Unreal.

  23. luisthebeast
    March 8, 2017

    How can describe all the feelings with words?We are all so lucky to watch such an historic game,such an historic achievement.
    Lucho will leave but will left his mark,a different mark than Pep.A team with this huge mentality.The soul of champions.

  24. LAcule
    March 8, 2017

    I can’t get into hyperbole, because nothing does it justice. Neymar was immense but the sneaky cog in the wheel in this return to form has been rafhina with his subtlety and ball retention.

    Soak it in, we will never see anything like this again in our lifetimes!

  25. Tata2
    March 8, 2017

    thank you Enrique. we had our moments but you will forever be in our hearts. take a one year vacation at the end of the season

  26. ooga aga
    March 8, 2017

    How about Messi giving that second PK to Ney for the 5th goal. In a game like this, in a moment like that. Amazing.

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