Barcelona are slowly but surely reaching their very best version since Luis Enrique took charge at the Camp Nou.
Despite the club being immersed in a painful crisis at both institutional and sporting level only a couple of weeks ago, the team has bounced back just in time to try to prove their many doubters wrong.
Lionel Messi has been in exceptional form since his fallout with Luis Enrique following the team's 1-0 defeat against Real Sociedad became public. Far from hiding from his responsibilities, the Argentine star has become the leader Barca so desperately needed and decided to answer his critics in the way he knows best: scoring loads of goals.
Messi appears determined to show he is the main focus at Barcelona, which is a club in transition. Although Luis Enrique famously announced he was Barca's leader in his first press conference as manager, most Cules know it's up to the diminutive Messi to step up and make the difference.
Whoever wins the club's presidential election in the summer must make La Pulga's continuity the cornerstone of their campaign. Choosing a manager who keeps him comfortable, supported and motivated is also a must. Unless things change drastically, don't expect Luis Enrique to be sitting on the Catalans' bench after the summer.
Don't get us wrong: In an institution of Barca's calibre, there can't be a player who is bigger than the club. At the same time, not making special allowances for their all-time top goalscorer and current most influential player would also be an unforgivable mistake. The board and coaching staff must ensure every member of the squad is given the best chance to maximise his potential -- and that obviously includes Messi, their star.
Undoubtedly, Messi has been working tirelessly behind the scenes to recover his optimal fitness. A player who bases his game not only on skill but also on sporadic bursts of energy, Lio now perfectly understands the importance of dedicating plenty of time to perfect his physical condition. (There is no support for this as being fact.)
Although the No.10 has always prioritised collective success, the importance of his ongoing rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo can't be overlooked. Witnessing the Portuguese forward lift his third Ballon d'Or definitely must have been a difficult pill to swallow for Messi. Fortunately, La Pulga managed to turn his likely disappointment into a positive -- an added motivation to improve his own performances as a matter of urgency. Being crowned the world's best player for the fifth time next year must be an attractive challenge at individual level -- and even better if it were ahead of Real Madrid's No.7.
If Barca have managed to win the two matches after their shambolic defeat at Anoeta in such a convincing manner, it is thanks to Messi leading the way. Having his commitment and attitude questioned in the Catalan media seems to have had a positive impact so far.
Unsurprisingly, Barca's best performances of the season have coincided with Enrique's decision to finally field his best XI more regularly. Although common sense would indicate a manager who chooses his best players is more likely to get positive results, the Asturian needed 29 matches before repeat a starting eleven.
Despite being relatively young, 27-year-old Messi appears quite traditional when it comes to key aspects of his professional life. Being surrounded by players, staff and board members he can trust is important, as is being valued and supported both on and off the pitch. In short, all he needs is to be given a football, a few instructions and enough trust to enjoy his time on the pitch.
Although he is normally easygoing, his role as the club's reference and most recognisable face actually gives him both the chance and the responsibility to make his opinion on key topics known, preferably at an internal level. Having said that, he is far more comfortable zooming past defenders than discussing matters behind closed doors.
Messi is a special individual, one of the best footballers to ever play the game. His many records at both collective and individual level make supporters around the world follow his every move. But seemingly all he truly wants is a supportive environment in which he can express himself and develop his true potential. He's been doing just that lately, while carrying his club back to its best.