BARCELONA (Reuters) - Just when some wondered if Lionel Messi was losing his passion for the game, the Argentine bounced back showing exuberance and his full footballing repertoire in spearheading Barcelona’s charge to La Liga triumph.
A rejuvenated Messi played some of the best soccer of his career during the second half of the season as part of an increasingly deadly attacking trident that has propelled the Catalan side to their fifth league win in seven years.
Barca have rolled over their opposition in all competitions with a mighty 29 victories from their last 32 games since the turn of the year that keeps them on course for a repeat of 2009’s treble success.
Messi came into 2015 in the doldrums on the back of irregular form by his own high standards and there appeared to be plenty of friction between him and new coach Luis Enrique.
Off the field he had a strained relationship with the club that had been intensified by an investigation by tax inspectors where he didn’t get the support from Barca he felt he was entitled to.
Meanwhile, Real had made the running in La Liga, ending 2014 with a Spanish record 22-match winning run and Messi’s arch-rival at the Bernabeu, Cristiano Ronaldo, was named World Player of the Year.
When Barca lost their first game in January away to Real Sociedad and news emerged of a bust-up between Messi and Luis Enrique the talk turned to crisis.
The Argentine returned late from his Christmas break and was angry at being made a substitute in San Sebastian. There were heated exchanges between the pair, and Messi missed training the following day claiming to be unwell.
In the middle of the storm, the club was reeling from FIFA’s decision to uphold Barca’s transfer ban for two windows due to breaking rules over the signing of foreign under-18 players.
This led to the firing of sports director Andoni Zubizarreta and president Josep Maria Bartomeu announcing elections for the end of the season.
However, the club found its way out of the chaos with a new understanding forged between Luis Enrique and Messi, while fans unhappy with the running of the club were assuaged by the calling of elections.
The pieces to the jigsaw fell into place on the pitch with Luis Enrique ending his early season tampering and rubber-stamping a new brand of counter-attacking soccer.
After a slow start following his return from a biting ban in October, Luis Suarez found his form to devastating effect and he and Neymar became the perfect accompaniments to Messi.
At the same time Real were stuttering, with Ronaldo unable to maintain his ruthless early season form, and they suffered important injuries for Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and James Rodriguez.
A telling blow was struck toward the end of March when Barca won the ‘Clasico’ to open up a four-point lead in the table and they have not looked back since.
Following that Sociedad game Messi, who scored the goal at Atletico that secured the title on Sunday, has gone on to play every match and Luis Enrique has been full of praise for him.
“Messi is the best in the world without doubt and for me the best in the history of football,” he said recently.
After another imperious season for Barca, when Messi became the all-time top scorer in La Liga, in a power struggle with the coach it was clear that there was only going to be one winner.
Editing by Alan Baldwin