02 de marzo de 2016 (01:26 CET)
Leo Messi is wearing his star player's smile again. He is shooting that terrifying look to even the bravest of goalkeepers, like Petr Cech, who has been his bête noire up until now. He is once again scoring goals by the double, as was the case during the Arsenal-Emirates match (0-2). The Argentine star is enjoying an idyllic moment, in which he knows that he is well on his way to owning the second Champion's tournament, plus another triple. The trusted circle of players that surround Messi is one of the key factors sustaining the Flea's performance.
The involvement of the entire Barça changing room is tangible. Not least because those who don't understand Messi, don't understand the club as a whole. Ibrahimovic, Villa and Tello are some of the best examples. With Neymar, and above all, Luis Suárez, the constellation is complete. The Uruguayan forward has become the new accomplice within the team. The great relationship between the players' wifes, Antonella Roccuzzo and Sofia Balbi, also helps.
Suárez is now first on the list, while Neymar has also secured himself a very important position. Messi knows that the young player is a future star, and is taking care of him – as Ronaldinho did with him. Completing the trusted circle are Javier Mascherano –Messi's protector, and responsible friend-, Dani Alves –friend and joker-, and Gerard Piqué, a childhood friend who was there to defend the Argentine player.
Then there is Andrés Iniesta, whose relationship with the No. 10 is a little more cordial, but deeply affectionate nonetheless. No-one has spent as many afternoon's with Messi in the team's changing rooms as the quiet genius from Fuentealbilla. Both have spent ten seasons together on the Barça team. Iniesta is the link within the changing room to Messi, as was the case with Xavi Hernández and Carles Puyol.
Those no longer there
Messi's circle has always been vital to the development of his career. Ronaldinho took him under his wing during his first season (2005-06), in which Barça won the Champions. Messi lost due to an injury, but handled it gracefully. In addition, the Brazilian genius, Deco became a great confident for the Argentine star, with Eto'o also developing a soft spot for the Flea.
Having the support and approval of the best did, without doubt, help Messi to grow quickly. As has always been the case, however, he also had someone watching over him. The figure of a responsible, veteran footballer, who won the Argentine's trust: Gaby Milito.
Rijkaard's era gave way to that of Pep Guardiola. The two coaches were vital to Messi's development, along with some of the signings made by the Catalan trainer. Piqué's return to Barça was a source of great happiness for Messi, as was the signing of Alves, who formed a lethal partnership with the Argentine on the right during the year of the sextet. Another veteran platyer also came to the club in order to cover Milito's absence: José Manuel Pinto.
Two year's later, Mascherano's signing served to reinforce Messi's confidence in the team. The 'Jefecito' had all of the possible moves, and even renounced the armband from the Argentine selection as a sign of respect and overwhelming admiration. Next it was the turn of Cesc Fàbregas, Messi's close friend, who became inseparable from the star, evening buying a house in the Castelldefels mountain, close to the Argentine.
Nevertheless, the Arenys player suffered a double stroke of bad luck: not even his football was able to integrate at Camp Nou, and Messi was not on top form. The second half of Tito Vilanova's year, in which he suffered an injury propitiated his worse sporting year, complete with the orders from Tata Martino. The trainer also arrived at Barça with a mission to expand the perfect environment for Messi. It fail, and he left.
Luis Suárez now occupies Fàbregas's place. The player's experience as a family man has been extremely useful for Messi, although the true bond came with the mate.
Outside of the changing room
Messi is also a well-rounded individual off the playing field, and his family ties run deep. Jorge (father), Celia (mother), Rodrigo, Martín and Marisol (siblings) have always been by Leo's side. When it comes to business, Messi relies on the help of Pau Negre, and lawyer, Ángel Juárez, along with the other people that surround him.
Within the structure of Barça, Messi's most trusted right-hand man is Pepe Costa, who took over from Juanjo Brau - the physio with whom the Argentine's relationship turned rather frosty. Pepe's son, Álvaro Costa, is another external source with links to the changing room – although the young man is especially well connected with Neymar. For as long as Messi's circle of friend remains tight, the star will continue to make a difference.