Despite the distraction, Messi and his colleagues were untroubled Wednesday, cruising to a magnificent 5-0 victory at BATE Borisov in the Champions League to pull even with AC Milan at the top of Group H.
However, the players believe their performances in recent weeks have been affected by the Nike shirt, which they claim holds too much sweat and greatly increases in weight over the course of a game.
Nike admitted it had been contacted by Barcelona and was confident of finding an appropriate solution within a few weeks. The shirts are made from a fabric called Dri-FIT, which also gave tennis star Rafael Nadal difficulties during this year’s Australian Open.
Messi, David Villa and Xavi were among the stars to make their discomfort known to club officials, who passed the news on to Nike. The players insisted the shirts caused particular concern when conditions were hot and humid, or raining.
Yet despite wearing the same shirts in pouring conditions Wednesday, Messi was simply spectacular as Barca brushed aside the Belarus champion with consummate ease.
Messi has been in spectacular form to begin the new campaign and was once again at the top of his game, scoring a goal in each half and tormenting the BATE defense all evening. The little Argentinean fired home the third goal on 38 minutes after a goalkeeping error from Aleksandr Gutor, then smashed in the fourth 10 minutes into the second half. Barcelona had opened scoring early thanks to an own goal from BATE’s Alyaksandr Volodko, Pedro added a second soon after – while David Villa capped off the rout in the final minute.
Messi’s goals were his 13th and 14th of the season, and if he continues in this mode he could be on course to put together one of the most remarkable seasons in recent history. There seems to be no serious contenders, not even Cristiano Ronaldo, to his title of World Footballer of the Year and increasingly Messi is not being measured against his modern day peers but with the greats of the past.
Nowadays his place in history is a constant topic, even though he is still only 24 and could have a decade of elite service left in those legs.
This night was also significant in Barcelona lore, with Messi’s goals putting him level with Laszlo Kubala as the club’s second-highest all-time scorer. He now has 194 and is hurriedly chasing down the leading mark of 1940s and '50s superstar Cesar Rodriguez on 232.
“Each day playing with Messi and having him as a teammate is a blast,” defender Dani Alves told the Associated Press. “We are going to do everything we can to help him break all the records he can.”
If this week proved anything new, it was that shirt problems or not, nothing can slow Barca’s little magician.