Every dog has it's day. Every star has it's time to shine. The concept of permanence simply doesn't exist at the very highest level, and in no sport is that as true as it is in football. While stars like Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretsky in the NFL, NBA and NHL respectively continued and indeed in Peyton's case, continue to dominate in their chosen fields long into the twilight of their careers, a spell at the very top in football is often short-lived. The brevity of it all has become more noticeable and more prominent as time has gone by; but perhaps more alarmingly, the fall from grace has too became more noticeable.
The rise and fall of Ronaldinho is perhaps the most fitting example of this recent trend; the Brazilian forward was unplayable at his very best, consistently spear-heading Barcelona's charge for glory between 2005 and 2007; yet time caught up to the twinkle-toed Brazilian -- so much so that by 2008, the Blaugrana were actively offering their talisman to a whole host of clubs. His time, had passed -- and Barcelona had a new star lined up anyway; a diminutive Argentine by the name of Lionel Messi.
Reserved, yet ruthless; Messi had been threatening greatness for a couple of seasons prior to Ronaldinho's ignominious exit, but with the Brazilian out of the picture, it was Messi's time to take centre stage. Liberated by the freedom and inspired by the confidence shown in his abilities by Pep Guardiola and Barca president, Joan Laporta, Messi elevated his game to a entirely new level, winning an unprecedented four FIFA Ballon d'Or titles.
And while it may seem somewhat unusual to question Messi's ability on the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup final, where he is expected to play a decisive role for Argentina, the arrival of Luis Suarez certainly prompts me at least to ask that question.
Blasphemous, I know, but has the "Lionel Messi era" come to it's natural end?
At a club level, it's a debate that's been rumbling on for years -- messidependencia: are FC Barcelona too reliant on Lionel Messi? As the leader of the team, Messi is undoubtedly subjected to the most scrutiny as and when things go wrong at the club, so perhaps it's because the spotlight is constantly shining on the Argentine that the media have been so willing to pick out his flaws, and indeed the flaws he creates in the Barcelona system, simultaneously disregarding the lengthy list of positives that he brings to the table.
However, be that as it may, there is some credence to the claims -- the stubbornness with which Barcelona limit themselves to a Messi-orientated style of play has caused issues at vital junctures in recent seasons, culminating in the disastrous events of last season, where the Blaugrana all-but ended the season trophy-less for the first time in six years. Messidependencia ultimately crippled Barcelona against Atletico Madrid last season, and the hesitance of both the coaching staff and the players to waver from their Messi-centric system ensured that this remained true throughout the entirety of the campaign.
One could argue that Messi's reputation has developed to the point where it is almost detrimental to the team, albeit not through any fault of his own. Take last summer's marquee signing Neymar as an example; with Messi in the team, Neymar stops being himself and starts actively looking to feed Messi, even when it contrasts his usual style of play. With Messi out of the team, there was brief period in which Neymar truly thrived. This respect, healthy as it may be, needs to be balanced with a competitive edge to push this club forward and back into the elite.
And so, we come to the signing of Luis Suarez. Arguably the best striker in world football at present, Suarez was in scintillating form last season for Liverpool -- as the star, the puto jefe as Guardiola would say. Of course, his signature has been met with a somewhat muted reaction from the press, who are understandably cynical -- arguing that past performances are not a reliable indicator for the future, simply because Suarez can never be the leader with Messi present.
Yet, for me at least, there's a sense that this move might be different. While the likes of Cesc Fabregas, David Villa and even Neymar were brought in to maintain the status quo and build a side around Messi, the introduction of Suarez suggests that Luis Enrique is merely trying to build a side with Messi. Like Jordan said, this is the return to a "Holy Trinity", for the first time since 2008/09, we have what appears to be an "egalitarian" frontline.
The end of an era? Perhaps.
The beginning of a dynasty? Who knows...
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