The opposition have nobly held out for an hour against Ousmane Dembele’s feints, Sergio Busquets’ probing and Luis Suarez’s molars.
The Nou Camp groans louder as Kevin-Prince Boateng spoons a shot into Row Ñ. Ernesto Valverde has seen enough.
He nods to the bench and visibly relaxes as 99,000 people break out into a chant of ‘MESSSIIII, MESSSIIII’ as if collectively possessed by a higher spirit.
It’s not often Lionel Messi finds himself on the substitutes’ bench- 78 times to be exact- but, as with most areas of football, the 31-year-old is a natural.
With Liverpool arriving in town for a Champions League semi-final on Wednesday, Messi found himself in the unusual position of watching his team-mates take on Levante from the bench.
At half-time, with the game still goalless and Levante’s threat increasing, Valverde summoned his main man.
Seventeen minutes later Messi secured Barcelona a 26th La Liga title with a typically composed left-footed finish.
Messi has now scored 36 times in 78 substitute appearances, giving him a goals to (partial) games ratio of 0.46 during his Barcelona career.
A benched Messi’s numbers compare favourably to some of La Liga’s greatest ever marksmen across 90 minutes.
Raul, the fifth highest goalscorer in La Liga history, had a goals to game ratio of 0.41 while Karim Benzema, the man who replaced him as Real Madrid’s long-term no.9, is currently operating at the 0.48 mark.
Messi’s goals to games ratio jumps to 0.93 when you include La Liga matches he’s started. For all the CR7 fanboys out there, that’s slightly short of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid ratio of 1.07.
But this isn’t about Ronaldo. This is about the greatest footballer ever to play the game. Not only is he the GOAT, he’s also probably the best substitute of all time.
Obviously the first part of the above sentence usually negates the second, because no one in their right mind would bench Messi, but sometimes needs must.
Messi came off the bench seven times in La Liga before netting his first Barcelona goal- the second in a 2-0 win against Albacete on 1 May 2005.
Since then the rest is very much history.
If you’ve got a spare half an hour you should take some time to familiarise yourself with the honours section of Messi’s Wikipedia page.
You can add ‘Greatest Substitute in the History of Football’ to the list now. Messi will be thrilled.
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