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Happy 7th anniversary to Lionel Messi, the greatest choker of all time

MessiWhat crosses your mind when you think of Messi? Is it him running rings around defenders, winning yet another Ballon d’Or award or lifting the Champions League trophy? What if you read the article title right, and, like me, you think that Lionel Messi may be the greatest choker ever? Shocking, isn’t it?

This article is a follow-up to a previous article where I suggested that Messi could be a choker. Now, six months later, I’m convinced he is. Before I get a barrage of insults from Argentinians and Barcelona fans, I’d like to start off by defining what **I** understand by a choker. For me, a choker is a player who, when the going gets tough, performs way below his personal average. Basically, the better you are, the higher the expectations will be for your performance in an important match, and if you do poorly, well, you’re a choker.

Messi throws up during Argentina match

Messi throws up during Argentina match

Messi has won cups: for example, he scored in both Champions League finals he played in and ended up lifting the cup. So how dare I imply that he’s a choker? Aren’t those important matches?

Rather than looking at what his teams have won, I am looking at when his team failed with him on the pitch, i.e. either lost a final or got eliminated from a two-legged encounter.

In fact, tomorrow marks exactly 7 years since Messi last scored in a top competition (Copa del Rey, Champions League, World Cup or Copa America) in a round where his team got eliminated. On 18th April 2007, a 19-year old Lionel Messi scored two goals as Barcelona ravaged Getafe 5-2 in the Copa del Rey semifinal 1st leg. Hardly a match where the going was tough, unlike the return leg where Getafe won 4-0 and Messi didn’t play. This, however, was the last time that Messi scored a goal in a round in which his team got eliminated.

Don’t believe it? See it for yourself in the table below listing only the matches in which he played and his team got eliminated, all 19 of them:

Date Competition Stage Opponent At Goals for Goals against
15/7/2007 Copa America Final Brazil N 0 3
27/2/2008 Copa del Rey Semifinal Valencia H 1 1
23/4/2008 Champions League Semifinal Manchester United H 0 0
29/4/2008 Champions League Semifinal Manchester United A 0 1
5/1/2010 Copa del Rey Last 16 Sevilla H 1 2
13/1/2010 Copa del Rey Last 16 Sevilla A 1 0
20/4/2010 Champions League Semifinal Inter Milan A 1 3
28/4/2010 Champions League Semifinal Inter Milan H 1 0
3/7/2010 World Cup Quarterfinal Germany N 0 4
20/4/2011 Copa del Rey Final Real Madrid N 0 1
17/7/2011 Copa America Quarterfinal Uruguay H 1 1
18/4/2012 Champions League Semifinal Chelsea A 0 1
24/4/2012 Champions League Semifinal Chelsea H 2 2
30/1/2013 Copa del Rey Semifinal Real Madrid A 1 1
26/2/2013 Copa del Rey Semifinal Real Madrid H 1 3
23/4/2013 Champions League Semifinal Bayern Munich A 0 4
1/4/2014 Champions League Quarterfinal Atletico Madrid H 1 1
9/4/2014 Champions League Quarterfinal Atletico Madrid A 0 1
16/4/2014 Copa del Rey Final Real Madrid N 1 2
Bayern gave Messi some food for thought last season

Bayern gave Messi some food for thought last season

For a player who consistently scores between a half to a third (closer to a half, to be fair) of all his team’s goals it means that for every 1 to 2 goals by his teammates, he scores one himself. However, these statistics show us that, when the going got tough, Lionel Messi has failed to add a goal himself in response to any of his teammates’ 12 goals scored.

By his standard rates, Messi would have been expected to score around 10 goals which would have taken his team’s goal tally in these 19 matches from 12 to 22. Goals that would been quite likely to result in a more successful season for his teams, but, alas, the player considered by many as the best player of all time has fallen considerably short of the high expectations he set for himself.

He has set defences on fire, he’s won four Ballon d’Or awards and he’s left football fans in awe at his skills. For all his trickery and magic, however, Lionel Messi is perhaps the greatest choker of them all.

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  • Valkress says:

    I’m sorry MUTU but I don’t think your analysis proves that Messi is a choker.
    The definition of a choker is someone who doesn’t perform under the pressure of big matches. So, to prove that someone is a choker, you should use all the matches against, say, top 4 in his national league and knockout rounds of national and continental cup (or from semi-finals, or whatever relevant criteria). Then, you can analyze and see his stats in those matches. I have not done this analysis so I cannot say for sure but I would not be surprised if his stats in all these matches were similar to his general stats (wel, surely that must be inferior due to the supérior opposition/defense but not that much).

    The matches you use (i.e. only the knockouts rounds lost by Barcelona and Argentina) show only one thing : when Messi doesn’t perform/score, his team loses. This only proves that those teams are too reliant on Messi. So you could even say it is the manager’s fault or the rest of the team’s fault. Another way to see it is that when Barcelona and Argentina do not go through, it is because of the other team effectively nullifying Messi’s threat. This can be seen as Messi’s failure but I’d rather consider it is also (mainly?) his manager’s. But the best way to see it, in my opinion, is to consider it as a tactical success from the opposite team’s manager.

    To demonstrate that using only defeats is not the right way to analyze a player’s performance, let’s consider this : using the same matches as you do, you could come to the conclusion that Victor Valdes is a choker because he has conceded more goals during those matches. I think you will agree that would be a bit absurd (and really unfair to Valdes..)

  • MUTU says:

    The matches I used are the ones where his teams ended the match needing more goals from their superstar Messi. Not only did they not get ‘more goals’ but they didn’t even get a single goal. Messi averages approximately a goal per match, and yet when he was needed the most he didn’t deliver.

    Of course, you are free to argue that he won some cups, and he scored in finals. Granted, he did. But it’s still a ‘what if’ argument. That is, what if Barcelona/Argentina had NOT played Messi, would they have lost? The fact remains that they didn’t lose, and it’s not possible to determine what would have happened without Messi. The only matches one can ascertain that more Messi goals were required are strictly the above.

    We’re blessed we live in a world where there are other superstars, such as Ronaldo, who’s goalscoring ratios when his teams progress are more or less comparable to when his teams get eliminated. There’s no blatant discrepancy the way there is with Messi.

    • Valkress says:

      There is a problem with your premise : you seem to consider that the matches you used to collect your data are all the matches where Barca/Argentina were struggling and needed a goal from Messi. That is not true. For all we know (without further analysis), there are as much matches where Barca/Argentina desperately needed a goal and Messi delivered it. Those matches, because they have been won, are not considered in your datas and that is why I think your analysis is not complete.

      You are right that those games are hardly countable and it is then a kind of “what if” argument but it is not because that part of the data is not mesurable that only taking into account the mesurable data is the correct way to analyze the stats.
      I’ll make a ‘metaphor’ based on Mendel genetics, hopefully that might be more understandable. Let’s say you are studying the coat color of mice, tou decide to do it on 3 generations (so two parents, then say 4 mice at generation 2 which then should give you 8 mice at generation 3). Unfortunately, one of the generation 2 mice dies before giving birth : the generation 3 is not complete and some mice are missing. You cannot draw any conclusion about genes and alleles (dominant, recessive and all that stuff) from the remaining mice because you are missing some data (you have no idea what color would be the missing mice)and your analyze would be wrong.

      The same can be said about the matches where Barcelona/Argentina were struggling for a goal. In some cases, he did not score that/those goals and you can count them. In other cases, he did score them but we can not count them. That doesn’t mean those games did not happen..

      So, all the data called “matches where Barcelona/Argentina struggled for a goal” can not be collected. Therefore, to draw any conclusions, we need to use some other data, maybe less accurate but entirely collectable, such as “matches against top 4 in his national league and knockout rounds of national and continental cup”.

      As you can see, I am not even arguing about the fact of Messi being a choker or not (even if I think he isn’t) but about the fact that your data is incomplete and then ‘irreceivable’.

      • MUTU says:

        As I explained, that’s a “what if”. In the matches that were won by Barcelona/Argentina, can you definitely say that they wouldn’t have been won had Messi remained on the bench the entire 90 (or 120) minutes? The answer is no, you can’t tell for sure.

        The only thing that’s not a “what if” is that every single Barcelona and Argentina elimination in the last 7 years can be (partly) blamed upon Lionel Messi failing to score a single goal when he generally scores an average of one goal per match.

  • Valkress says:

    I entirely agree, we cannot say for sure. But we can consider that there are some of them where it has been the case. How many? No idea. Maybe it’s none, maybe it’s all of them but we cannot say. That is for sure.
    But the fact that those games are not mesurable does not mean that they did not exist(!).
    Therefore, knowing that some matches are missing for the data you are using, you can not draw any conclusion from those but should rather use a similar database for which you can collect all the info.

    Again, using the same data that you use (removing Argentina games), I can say “See, Victor valdes has conceded goals in the Barca matches where they needed him mostly, then he is a choker”. Someone might argue “Surely, Valdes has saved points in other important games”. Me : “Well, maybe but would Barca not have still won with another keeper ? Your argument is a ‘What if’ “.
    The conclusion, according to your logic, would then be that both Valdes and Messi are chokers.

    Now, we can do the exact same thing with the database “knock-out games where bayern/Germany did not qualify” and the conclusion would be that Neuer is a choker.
    And, dare I say, I think (without analyzing any data) that your beloved Mario Gomez would fall into that category too 😉

    • MUTU says:

      Your argument for Valdes does not hold. I see three clean sheets in the matches above and 8 matches in which only 1 goal was conceded. That’s good-to-normal, nothing strange or completely incomparable to the average conceded stats.

      Gomez does not fall in that category either. For example, in 2010/11 he scored a goal in each leg against Inter when Bayern were eliminated.

  • Valkress says:

    The Valdes example was just there to make a point, I did not look into the matches results to develop. But the same could be said about for example Iniesta/Pedro/Xavi making less assists. Maybe it will never be as evident as the stats you’ve shown for Messi but that doesn’t change the fact that it does not rationally prove he is a choker.
    It rationally proves that when Barca/Argentina lose, Messi has not scored (and not the other way around) which means that to beat barca/Argentina, you need to neutralize Messi (well, we might have thought of that without stats^^).

    Maybe Messi is a choker and your analysis gives a hint that he might be but it proves nothing because you do not dispose of all the data “games where barca/Argentina are struggling” and, above all, you don’t know how much data is missing (1 game, 5, 10, 50 ?).

    The Messi/Ronaldo comparison you made a few posts before justs shows that Barca are more reliant/dependant on Messi than Real on Ronaldo : i.e. when barca lose, that’s because Messi has been neutralized while when Real lose, there are other factors (if we were to try and analyze them, I think I’d go for Alonso as the main guy).

    For the Gomez part, I was just teasing you (well, he did flop in the “Dahoam debacle”)

    • MUTU says:

      Barcelona have won matches with Messi neutralised though. It’s not enough to just neutralise Messi.

      Of course, there are various interpretations for these stats, as you point out yourself. My interpretation is that he’s a choker, because in these tough matches he’s performed far worse than his personal average.

      It also indicates that Barcelona/Argentina rely on Messi. Actually more relevant to Barcelona than Argentina seeing that Messi’s only scored 1 World Cup goal.

      But then, consider this. When was the last time you said “Barcelona were eliminated, despite Messi scoring x amount of goals”? You can say it for any other top striker in world history, just inexplicably not for Messi though, whatever the reason may be.

  • FCBayernMunchen says:

    I agree with Valkress on this one. Didn’t point it out myself because I was not sure how to express it, but I think he’s hit the nail on the head.

    Still, it’s interesting to note stopping Messi from scoring is usually enough in big games vs Barca.

  • MUTU says:

    Why, hello Messi!

  • MUTU says:

    Hello again Messi!

  • MUTU says:

    Oh, hi Messi! He even missed the penalty in the shootout!

  • MUTU says:

    Happy Valentine’s day, choker!

    • sumit107 says:


      • MUTU says:

        Yes, again 😉 and some people thought I was going mad with my theory that continues to hold 🙂