Lionel Messi

Messi's red card shows his frustration that Barcelona just aren't good enough

The Argentine launched a punch to the back of Asier Villalibre's head as his team lost the Supercopa final to Athletic Bilbao

12:07am on Monday 18th January 2021
Paul Macdonald

Lionel Messi's violent punch to the back of Asier Villalibre's head was an indication of where he is at mentally at the moment.

For all the wins over Granada and other lesser lights, any time this incarnation of Barcelona is pitted against a half-decent opponent and the pressure is on, they capitulate.

It happened again here. Antoine Griezmann's double had them in an excellent position, heading towards injury time, only for inept set-piece defending to allow Villalibre to level. When Inaki Williams curled in a wondrous goal in extra time, you felt Barca had no answer. And so it proved.

And Messi, who has begun to find form again of late after a low-key start to the season, was back to his most frustrated and most subdued. He sprayed passes left and right but never looked like getting involved in scoring, and perhaps the injury that kept him out of the semi-final against Real Sociedad meant he shouldn't have played at all.

But despite being kicked up and down the field for nearly fifteen years, he's never reacted like this before, and he can have no complaints over the decision. He clobbered Villalibre; yes, the striker was clumsy and clambered on top of him, but the action was indefensible.

Barcelona 2-3 Athletic: Player Ratings, Match Stats, Player Stats

And, in the moment, it could be representative of Messi's wider mindset. With Josep Maria Bartomeu gone, he would probably stay at Barca if he thought he had any chance of winning anything.

But he knows that this team just doesn't have enough about it. There are good players and good ideas, but no cohesive strategy and still too many passengers.

That it has reached this stage is something that Messi admitted to himself last summer, but there may have been times where he's given it a second thought. Pedri's emergence, a player who could be something truly special, clearly excited him. But it's not going to be enough at the highest level.

Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. Ronald Koeman's side taken to extra time twice in five days and don't even have a trophy to show for it. All the players given additional strain for a competition that really doesn't merit it in the grand scheme of things.

And Messi lashing out could have just been anger in the moment. But he's been good at keeping the lid on it before. This felt more like a smack at the back of the head of the situation he finds himself in. He's fit, and he could go for a few more years yet.

Does he want to waste those years in a team that can't match his expectations? Time will tell.

Barcelona 2-3 Athletic: Player Ratings, Match Stats, Player Stats

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