Lionel Messi was upset and, as usual, it was Josep Guardiola who bore the brunt. The Barcelona coach’s mobile phone had just vibrated and he stared at the small screen, troubled. “Look at this”, he muttered to his close friend, Manel Estiarte.
It was autumn 2009 and the Barça team bus was headed home after a league fixture. Though the exact words vary depending on who is telling the tale, all accounts agree on the gist of the Argentine’s message to his coach: “Well, I can see I’m not important to the team anymore, so…”
Yet again, Messi was hiding behind the keyboard. Little matter that he was seated just a few rows behind Guardiola on the bus. The best player in the world has always been a man of few words and found it easier to communicate via text message than face-to-face. But that does not make him any less ambitious or willing to assert himself to preserve his own status.
There is a turn of phrase offered up by the Barcelona dressing room that perfectly sums up how the Argentine goes about things: “He’s no dictator, but he certainly makes his presence felt in his own way”.
The arrival of Ibrahimovic, a player Guardiola had pushed hard to sign, had come as a blow to Messi. His quest for unrivalled supremacy, to be unanimously regarded as the main man at Barcelona and not to have to fight for this standing – because everyone automatically put him on this pedestal – had come under challenge.
With Ibra in the picture, all that was threatened. One SMS was all it took to get the matter back under control.