Why does Lionel Messi walk so much in soccer games?

Lionel Messi Inter Miami 2023Getty

With a World Cup, four Champions Leagues, seven Ballons d'Or and countless other trophies to his name, Lionel Messi is considered the GOAT by millions of football fans across the world.

Now plying his trade at Inter Miami in MLS, Messi has continued to dazzle and inspire, but new fans may have noticed that he seems to be relatively relaxed for large periods of a game - "soccer's great ambler" per The New Yorker - where running hard up the field is considered a major quality.

If you are one of those wondering, GOAL takes a look at why Messi walks during games, what people have said and whether it matters.

Why does Lionel Messi walk so much in soccer games?

The obvious answer to the question is that Messi walks during games so as to conserve his energy. Instead of wasting his energy on chasing shadows or lost causes, Messi picks his moments and springs to life. Thus he is optimally primed to punish opponents when an opportunity presents itself.

Given the fact that his ability is unmatched by anyone on the planet, Messi has probably earned the luxury of being able to slow down and walk for periods of the game, not to mention the fact that it does not appear to have an impact on his effectiveness for the team. In fact, it could be argued that it helps.

As Pep Guardiola, who managed Messi at Barcelona during a golden era for the club, notes, the empyrean Argentine is sharpening his efficiency in every moment of the game when he is on the pitch.

"He is not out of the game. He's involved. He's moving his head, left, right, right, left. He knows exactly what is going to happen and his head is always moving," Guardiola explains in Amazon Prime Video's This is Football documentary.

"He's not running, but he is always watching what happens. He smells who is the weak point in the back four. After five or 10 minutes, he has a map in his eyes and his brain. He knows exactly what space there is and the panorama.

"Just like being in a jungle where you have to survive, he knows, 'if I move here or here, I will have more space to attack.'"

This analysis is shared by Marc Cucurella, who played with Messi at Barcelona.

"The most incredible thing, when you watch the games or play with him, is that he is walking a lot," Cucurella told GOAL. "But he is watching the space, then when he receives the ball he has the information on the gaps in his mind and he is ready to kill."

Lionel Messi walkingGetty/GOAL composite

There is an associated tactical element to the walking of Messi in games too - opposition players have to make a decision on whether to let him wander, thus leaving him with lots of space, or stay with him, which would take them out of the game.

England international Kieran Trippier played against Messi for Atletico Madrid and confessed that it was strange to see the Argentine appearing so languid.

"You play against Sadio Mane, for instance, and if you take your eye off him for a second, he’ll just dart in behind you," Trippier said in an interview with The Athletic. "But with Messi, you look four times and he’s still there. It’s weird. A lot of the time he just walks and walks — and then, before you know it, it’s a goal.

"I’ve played against him a few times now and he’s so good at just picking up those little pockets of space. Before Barcelona have made three passes, he already knows where the ball’s going.

"It’s amazing how clever he is. Even when he’s walking like that, you’ve always got to be aware. He’s unbelievable, the best ever."

Perhaps unfairly, other players have been heavily criticised for walking during games, with charges of laziness or lack of interest being levelled at them.

Paul Pogba, who won the World Cup with France, protested that it was his style of play and referenced the fact that Messi, one of the greatest players of all time, walks too.

"I've always been like that,” Pogba told France Football in 2018. "When I've won, I've won being like that. That's my style of play.

“You're not going to criticise Messi when he walks on the park. If he scores three goals are you going to say: 'Ah but he's walking on the pitch?' No. You can't tell me how to play."

For most footballers, walking casually through a game just won't cut it, but when you are the greatest of all time? Then you might get a pass.