Barcelona star Lionel Messi has been defended for walking during matches by former team-mate Gianluca Zambrotta ahead of his side’s Champions League trip to Juventus.
The Argentina forward has seen his playing style criticised as his career has progressed, while his international performances have been heavily scrutinised, but Zambrotta thinks the 29-year-old conserving his energy during games at this stage of his career is a wise strategy.
The former Italy international, who played with Messi at Barca as well as representing Juventus during his career, thinks it is laughable to suggest the Camp Nou star is on the decline ahead of Tuesday’s quarter-final first leg in Turin.
“It is not like Messi is static now, but maybe he wants to receive less knocks and tries to draw the others’ attention towards himself to let his team-mates have more space,” Zambrotta said to Omnisport.
“But mostly it is because he plays too many games. Messi is that type of player who plays in between 60 and 70 games per year. It is impossible to be always at the top.
“Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and players like them always play with their national team and their clubs are always reaching the end of every competition – Coppa Italia, Copa del Rey, the leagues, performing these big matches at 100 per cent from the beginning until the end of the season.
“It is humanly impossible to do that – therefore in some games you may see Messi walk.
“If he walks for 90 minutes and then scores twice in stoppage time, it is all good for his team-mates and for Barcelona!
“It makes me laugh when somebody says Messi is declining.”
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 10, 2017
Messi has scored 43 goals in all competitions for Barca this season, a record Zambrotta thinks compares favourably with anyone else in the world game.
“Messi in Champions League scored so much this season, the same in LaLiga,” he said.
“You cannot say he is in Sunset Boulevard. Maybe he is more mature and understands that sometimes he has to pull the brakes, as we say.
“When I was Messi’s team-mate I knew he could be decisive at every moment. In a nutshell, when you were in trouble you gave him the ball thinking, ‘He will do something with it’ and in training it was always very hard to dispossess him.”
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