Lionel Messi has reached the twilight of his illustrious career, making it quite natural that he doesn’t dash around the pitch like players a decade or more younger might.
Yet, over the course of the legendary Argentine forward’s football journey, a recurring question has emerged among fans: “Why does Messi often walk during matches?”
During his remarkable 17-year tenure as a key player at Barcelona, it was not uncommon to witness Lionel Messi leisurely pacing the field—particularly in his final stages at Camp Nou.
This tendency to stroll persisted during his challenging two-year period with Paris Saint-Germain. Despite his fervor for representing Argentina, he has similarly been observed walking, often half-heartedly, during numerous international matches over the years.
Even at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar—a tournament forever linked to Messi due to his instrumental role in leading La Albiceleste to victory—his frequent walking on the field drew attention.
Post the group stages, BBC Sport disclosed that Messi ranked among the top 10 players three times in terms of distance covered while walking.
Messi’s walking stats in 2022 World Cup group stages
During the preceding World Cup finals, only Poland’s striker Robert Lewandowski surpassed Lionel Messi in distance covered at a walking pace (5202 meters) in a single group stage match. Messi was the sole player to appear more than twice in the top 10 rankings for this metric.
Tell us something we don’t know 😂 pic.twitter.com/YbZLH1g8LE
— M•A•J (@Ultra_Suristic) December 3, 2022
“He’s almost pretending that he’s not interested then he comes alive,” former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand said at the time. ”What he can do is open up the game from any position on the park and that’s the difference between him and all the others.”
Throughout the tournament’s progression, Messi consistently conserved his energy for pivotal moments. He showcased several instances of awe-inspiring individual excellence throughout the knockout stages, ultimately leading to his triumphant hoisting of football’s most esteemed prize.
This achievement was realized through what could be deemed as one of the most remarkable World Cup finals against France.
In light of his exceptional performances in Qatar, Messi appeared well on his way to securing a historic eighth Ballon d’Or award.
Subsequently, he made the significant choice to transition from Europe to America during the summer. This decision saw him sign a lucrative two-and-a-half-year contract with David Beckham’s Inter Miami.
In his first eight games for the Major League Soccer outfit, Messi had scored 10 goals and provided a further three assists. More importantly, he’d helped the club win a first ever trophy in the form of the Leagues Cup and dragged the team to the final of the US Open Cup.
Messi scored a wonderful goal in the Leagues Cup final against Nashville SC, curling an unstoppable strike past goalkeeper Elliot Panicco from the edge of the box. Days later, footage recorded from the stands showing Messi walking around for over a minute went viral on social media.
Seemingly out of the game, Messi eventually sensed that something was about to happen and darted towards goal from the right wing. He demanded the ball, then took a couple of typically brilliant touches before finding the back of the net. Watch the video in all its glory below:
Ferdinand on Messi: “He looks soo uninvolved, then all of a sudden, bang”
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Pep Guardiola explains why Messi walks during matches
One man who knows exactly why Messi walks so much during matches is Pep Guardiola, the South American’s former manager at Barcelona and arguably the best coach in the world. Commenting while watching a video of Messi as part of the ‘This is Football’ series on Amazon Prime Video, the revered Catalan coach said: “He’s watching now, he’s walking.
“He’s walking… That’s what I like the most. He is not out of the game, he’s involved. He’s moving his head: right, left, left, right. He knows exactly what is going to happen. But his head is always like this [Guardiola turns his head left and right]. He’s always moving.
“He’s not running, but he’s always watching what’s happening. He smells where are the weak points in the back four. After five, ten minutes, he has the map in his eyes, in his brain to know exactly where is the space and what is the panorama. It’s like being in the jungle and I have to survive. And he knows if I move here, here, I will have more space to attack.”
So, there you have it. Messi doesn’t walk around the pitch because he’s lazy or not physically up to the challenge of running more. He does it in order to be several steps ahead of his opponents. Then – and only then – when the moment is right: bang.
Speaking during the 2018 World Cup, football pundit Ken Early stated, per theDaily Mail: “Messi has figured out how to win matches by moving less than everyone else.” While Luke Born, a data scientist at Barcelona, said during a sports analytics conference: “Can we say Messi gets a lot of his space by not chasing the play? Yes, that’s precisely what our research shows.”
Fans may enjoy seeing players charge around at 100 miles per hour, but Messi is proof that it can pay dividends to at least appear on the fringes of the game. The difference between Messi and other players who drift in and out of matches, though, is that the World Cup winner is steps ahead of most opponents in his head.
His football intelligence – or football IQ, if you will – is on another level to most professionals, and that’s one of the main reasons he’s been able to scale such lofty heights over the past two decades. Now in his mid-30s it’s safe to assume that the time Messi spends walking during matches will only increase between now and the day he retires.
Despite that, Messi will continue to be the first name on the teamsheet for both Inter Miami and Argentina because of the otherworldly quality he possesses. He’ll be 39 years old when the next World Cup finals come around – hosted by Canada, Mexico, and the United States – but you certainly wouldn’t bet against him making the tournament to help defend Argentina’s crown.