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Messi takes center stage for Barca

  • Story Highlights
  • Lionel Messi scores five goals in a week to give Barcelona three victories
  • Messi has taken center stage in the Barca forward line so far this season
  • The Argentine has taken over the playmaking role from team-mate Ronaldinho
  • Next Article in World Sport »
By Greg Duke
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LONDON, England -- When Barcelona signed Thierry Henry this summer, immediate questions were asked about how coach Frank Rijkaard could accommodate him in his star-studded forward line.

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Lionel Messi's five goals in a week confirm that he is the man to lead Barcelona's trophy assault this season.

Could Henry, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Samuel Eto'o all conceivably play in the same Barcelona side?

All around the world, would-be Barca coaches were working out new and varied formations and styles of play to try and fit in four of the greatest forwards in the world, not withstanding the relative merits of Eidur Gudjohnsen and the now-departed Javier Saviola.

In reality, the conundrum has been taken out of Rijkaard's hands by a variety of reasons.

Eto'o's absence with a long-standing thigh injury immediately reduced four to three, while Henry has taken longer than expected to settle, looking not quite the player who re-wrote the Arsenal record books amid speculation that his only reason for leaving the Gunners was to take the heat out of his acrimonious divorce.

As for Ronaldinho, well the rumors just will not go away. Allegations of wild drinking binges, poor fitness and bust-ups behind the scenes are threatening to tear apart a previously harmonious relationship.

With Chelsea itching to take the Brazilian to west London, it would take a brave man to bet that Ronaldinho will still be a Barca player this time next season.

That all leaves Messi. Now free from the injury problems that have marred his last two seasons, forcing him to miss Barcelona's 2006 Champions League triumph, the Argentine has stepped up to the plate in sensational style this season.

Even by his own high standards, the last week has seen Messi catapulted even further into Catalan folklore.

Five goals in seven days, including doubles in the Primera Liga victories over Sevilla and Zaragoza, has seen 20-year-old Messi shake off the burden of being "the new Maradona" to take over the mantle of chief destroyer in Rijkaard's attacking, entertaining system.

For the last three seasons, Messi has been the Barca boy wonder. Flashes of sensational skill, dribbling ability, pace and strength have drawn natural comparisons with Argentina's greatest ever player -- aided even further by Messi running through the Getafe defense last season to score a goal eerily reminiscent of Maradona's "Goal of the Century" against England.

A low center of gravity, courtesy of a growth deficiency which was not treated as a child, means Messi can keep his balance in the tightest of situations, enabling him to keep possession of the ball when it would be natural to assume his lack of inches would see him bundled over far more frequently.

Successive seasons have seen a foot injury, followed by a thigh problem, deprive Messi of a regular spot on the world stage.

As Ronaldinho strutted his stuff in front of his adoring Nou Camp supporters, Messi has been the heir-apparent, waiting in the wings to take over as the headline act.

Well that wait now appears to be over and Barca will be relying on a fully-fit Messi to help wrest the Primera Liga title away from bitter rivals Real Madrid. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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