Count on Messi to keep adding to goal collection

Count on Messi to keep adding to goal collection

Barcelona versus AC Milan. The goal is coming. Mathematically, it is imminent. A player with 60 goals in 50 matches in 2012-13 is unlikely to go more than four matches without a goal. Especially since it has not happened since 2010-11. Genius has its own unique law of averages.

The goal is coming. Maybe it is unavoidable because Neymar is playing alongside him, Neymar who is a twitching, lissome creature of pull-backs and backheels, Neymar who is stealing a few of his headlines. But this is the small man's team. Lionel Messi's team.

The small man rarely says much. He doesn't get barbers to cut his name into his hair, doesn't turn goal celebrations into egotistical displays and is not known for speaking of himself in the third person. These minor vanities don't interest Messi. Yet he likes winning and he particularly likes to be doing the winning.

The goal is coming. History tells us it is imminent because the great athlete in struggle is programmed to respond. Messi has had muscle injuries, he is missing matches, he is not a boy any more but a battered man of 26 whose legs can speak wearily of miles run and tackles worn. For Barcelona he has scored over 300 goals but all athletic rivers must eventually have relatively dry seasons.

Last calendar year he scored 79 goals for his club, this year 39. For most players 39 goals would be prefaced with "incredible", for Messi it is prefixed with "only". His greatest year may not have come yet - indeed the World Cup is looming - yet the irony of Messi is that as 30 slowly approaches, his worst enemy and hardest competition will be his younger self.

Yet for all that, Messi is stubborn, this is written into his psychological DNA. Authors with writer's block will keep scribbling. Footballers in minor droughts will keep running at defences, holding onto the truth that inspiration is born of work ethic. "This time," he says, "there have been two injuries really close together and that kind of impact you do notice." He says he is in search of "rhythm" and "tempo" and sounds like a dancer returning from a layoff.

The goal is coming because Messi is patient as he works for it. He and Neymar are a fascinating duet. The Brazilian is a slim, drifting, whisper of a man, who occasionally goes down if a defender exhales on him. The Argentine resembles a wind-up car that operates in short, frenetic bursts. If his pace suggests a shrunken battery, it may just be the temporary result of injuries.

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