(Reuters) - Lionel Messi completed his first 90 minutes of the season for Barcelona in midweek when he helped them battle back to beat Inter Milan in the Champions League but former Barca striker Rivaldo says the Argentine must not be rushed.
The 32-year-old has endured a frustrating campaign with a foot injury restricting him to only two starts — a major factor in the club’s slow start which has left them fourth in La Liga.
Manager Ernesto Valverde knows how vital Messi is to Barca’s prospects and it would be a tough call to leave him on the bench, but Rivaldo says he must not be rushed back.
“Lionel Messi is still recovering from injury and finding his rhythm,” Rivaldo, speaking in his role as an ambassador for bookmakers Betfair, said on Friday.
“But I was happy to see him playing for 90 minutes and sacrificing himself for the team, even if it was obvious that he’s not 100% fit.”
Barcelona face sixth-placed Sevilla on Sunday with both teams level on 13 points from seven games and while Messi is more than likely to feature in only his third La Liga game of the season, Rivaldo urges caution.
“Messi’s importance in this win against Inter only reinforces my view that he has to be more protected in this phase of his career,” former Barca favourite and FIFA World Player of the Year Rivaldo said.
“He must be allowed to fully recover so that he can stop feeling any pain and lose any fear of fighting for each ball. He must be allowed to recover his joy on the pitch, as he is very important for Barcelona, especially when on his best form.”
Rivaldo says the clash with Sevilla could be too early.
“Of course Messi wants to play. But it could be time to reflect with the medical staff and check if playing too much time after coming back from an injury could be risky for his recovery,” he said.
“It’s an important match against Sevilla but there is a lot of the league season to play yet, so perhaps protecting the player could reap rewards later, as it would allow Messi to have some more days to recover from his midweek efforts.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar