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Barcelona and Argentina Must Manage Lionel Messi's Injuries Better

Both his national team and club are guilty of failing to protect him.

David Ramos/Getty Images

Lionel Messi is still out after a groin injury forced his substitution against Atletico Madrid last week. Messi hopefully will be OK soon, and maybe we can move on after.

There is a darker timeline proposed by Argentine newspaper Clarín, in which he requires surgery and misses the next three or four months. Such a long-term absence would present big problems for FC Barcelona's season.

There is also risk that he comes back and re-injures himself, or has to play through pain indefinitely.

Given the possibility of dire consequences, one has to lay blame on both the FC Barcelona and Argentina staff for their handling of Messi.

He continues to play 90 minutes even when hurt or when the match is out of reach. This just can't keep going. It was all right for a few seasons, but now that mileage has taken its toll and Messi needs a bit more rest.

At the start of the season, I said it was a good thing that Messi had "retired" from international play if it meant he could save a few trips. He could always un-retire later.

Instead, he un-retired right away and played for Argentina. He started to complain about the groin injury after a 1-0 win over Athletic Club de Bilbao. FC Barcelona sent a notice of the problem to the Argentine federation, but they still took him to play in South American qualifiers.

He scored as Argentina won 1-0. Unfortunately, it looks like Argentina still need Messi to carry them to even qualify for the World Cup. But if that's the case, can they ever win it? They need to learn how to not rely on him so much.

He missed the next match for Argentina, and he didn't start for the next Barcelona game. He was subbed on as Barcelona needed a goal, though they still lost 1-2 to Deportivo Alavés.

Messi was eventually withdrawn, definitively this time, as Barcelona led Atletico Madrid 1-0. The match would end in a draw.

Argentine coach Edgardo Bauza lashed out at Barcelona, accusing them of failing to take proper care of the superstar. But in truth, Argentina have always pushed him to play every minute of even the most inconsequential friendly. Let's not pretend they didn't have financial incentive to do so.

Between April 2008 and May 2013, roughly 5 years, Messi had just two injuries and missed just two games for Barcelona. But since May 2013 to now, about 3 years and 4 months, Messi has suffered 11 injuries, missing 31 matches for his club.

Clearly, we are at a different point in his career, and how often he played in the Pep Guardiola golden years cannot necessarily be replicated.

We all know Messi wants to play every minute and dislikes being substituted. He loves football and he loves to help his team. I wouldn't have it any other way. But it's time for both Argentina and Barcelona to save him from himself. This is their responsibility.

And it's a policy that may need to apply to Neymar and Luis Suárez as well. With the signing of Paco Alcácer and the work Arda Turan and Rafinha have done upfront, Barcelona may be able to afford it now more than ever.

Luis Enrique certainly has the mettle to do this, though he has opted to rotate less as it unsettled the players somewhat in his first season. But he now has more influence and credibility than ever. The fans, the institution, and the players, must all trust his plan.

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