He has been cruelly cut down at the peak of his powers. Following a flourishing finale to 2012 and a world-record 91 goals for club and country, Lionel Messi has had his 2013 interrupted by injury and is now sidelined until the end of the year as he recovers from a fourth muscle problem in eight months. So where has it all gone wrong for Barcelona's brilliant and once seemingly immortal Argentine?
Messi was blighted by a series of muscle injuries earlier on in his career and looked as if he would be a player prone to such strains throughout his playing days. But a special fitness plan was devised under Pep Guardiola to cover all aspects of his conditioning and Leo never looked back. Between 2008 and 2012, he was not only the world's greatest player but also the fittest footballer on the planet.
The problems began in Barca's Champions League last-eight tie at Paris Saint-Germain in early April. The Argentine limped off with a hamstring strain at Parc des Princes and, clearly nowhere near fit, returned in the second leg to save the Catalan club from a surprise exit by setting up Pedro for an equalizer and passage to the last eight on away goals.
Messi then looked lost in Munich as Barca was thrashed 4-0 by Bayern in the semifinals and missed the 3-0 defeat at Camp Nou altogether in the second leg after being brought back hastily against Athletic Bilbao days earlier.