For some time, there have been arguments over which of Lionel Messi and Andreas Iniesta rings the Blaugrana mojo.
While no one disputes Messi’s magical influence in the much-heralded Barca team, some soccer pundits, professional footballers and coaches have always insisted the little, balding Spanish attacking midfield maestro is the difference Barca always fights for.
However, the recent poor form of the Blaugrana seem to have placed the comparisons into a checkmate: a Messi-less Barca is nothing but a shadow of itself. And that includes matches in which Messi is marked out of games.
In an interview with ESPN earlier this year, former French international Robert Pires said the diminutive Spaniard is the driving force behind Barcelona’s sustained success. He said: “For me, Iniesta is the best player at Barca,” Pires told La Xarxa Radio.
“We always talk about Messi, but without Iniesta Barcelona are a different team. He is the master of the team. He is the one who sets the pace for the whole team. He plays very easy.”
Manchester City and Spain midfielder David Silva also said the same of the Barca duo, while former Blaugrana midfielder Juan Roman Riquelme joined the ‘pundits’ in weighing in on the influence of Iniesta over that of Messi.
However, watching Barca’s season fading at the turn of the year, it is obvious Messi’s influence is beyond words. And those who use words, people like Pires, Silva, Riquelme and others, are nothing but tinkers.
Against AC Milan in the Champions League quarterfinal first leg, the Argentine was marked out the game. The vibrant Iniesta weaved all the magic his receding hairline could string, but nothing. Barca fell 2-0 in a game in which they were outclassed. Of course, Messi was fielded as a gamble, after missing preceding league games through injuries.
At the intimidating Camp Nou, however, Milan met the true Messi. By the time he was done with them, the idea that turning a 2-0 first leg deficit was next to impossible sounded far-fetched.
But even Messi was powerless against an organised Bayern Munich team that pumped the hit off the Barca passing game.
However, like in many other games this season, it was still the same Messi that Barca needed to turn defeat into memorable victory.
Last weekend, it was against visiting Real Betis. The Argentine was benched, but with Betis threatening to run Barca rugged, Tito Vilanova had no choice but to introduce the world’s best footballer.
And he proved his influence, scoring moments after coming on before completing what, by the final whistle, would sound as an easy win.
In all these comparisons and assessments, it is Gerrard Pique, the towering central defender, who seems to read the Barca fluidity.
Pique has never once believed there is any other player who can change a game for the Blaugrana than Messi can do. He stands at the back of the team and watches all those passes. He knows Iniesta and Xavi are the passers, but Messi is the mojo.