Lionel Messi: Where are we now?
A brace away at Granada put Lionel Messi on 11 league goals for the season now sits top of the scoring charts in La Liga, which is made
all the more impressive considering just last month he wasn't even in the top 10. One of which was a very clever and deceptive low free kick around the wall into the bottom corner, which was quickly pointed out online that it now put him one ahead of his eternal rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the standing for direct freekicks scored, which now stands at Messi (48) and Cristiano (47).
And there's a saying in life not only football that that one mans worst, is another mans best. And in what was deemed as his worst seasons last year, racking up “only” 33 goals and 26 assists in all competitions and as mentioned, is the outright leader of the race for the Pichichi this season, many would deem a pretty fruitful period in your career.
But no. Not when you are considered one of the greatest to ever step onto a pitch, and can only be compared to your own incredibly high standard in which you have otherwise normalised the other worldly.
The recent narrative around the little genius is he’s finished, he’s sulky and declining rapidly etc. etc.. So if you're looking at it from a number point of view, it’s not all that bad? It's not the outrageous numbers as before, but there are so many other factors contributing to that too, and yet he still finds himself ahead of the rest. As we know football is not just numbers, or all about the individual as much as people would like to make it out to be and in the context of Messi it's more, so much more.
On the numbers side, it's only natural to see a decline from a 33-year old who has been at the elite level for 15 years now and constantly hitting numbers only seen in computer games - now standing 719 goals in 894 games overall.
In the grander scheme of things, the diminutive Argentinian is playing in arguably the weakest, less cohesive side Barcelona have fielded in well over a decade and has been in steady decline since the pragmatic but successful Ernesto Valverde was relieved of his duties. Big name departures of his best friends Neymar and Luis Suarez, less reliable incoming signings, financial issues at the club & tax issues personally and a total shambles of a hierarchy in charge of his beloved club have also added to Messi’s delusionment. Which all culminated in an emotional Leo Messi trying to force his departure last summer.
Despite all this off the field and, often unnecessary, drama Messi has continued to carry the burdon of carrying a team as far as he can in what must have felt like a hopeless situation.
Incredibly there are only six months left on the Rosario native’s contract, and is free to negotiate with whoever he likes but knows his options are extremely limited due to the current financial climate, plus teams willing to give him the platform to perform in his own unique way. In a recent interview, Messi flirted with the Idea of possibly playing in the MLS. So keen on-lookers, putting
2 + 2 together, might seem like Manchester City and their never ending interest could be a destination because of their link with New York City FC in the future, as well as offering the chance to win trophies in the shorter term.
There is also PSG, in which Neymar offers a very “public come and play here” plea after a recent Champions league game. But with his own contract, and Kylan Mbappe’s, up for renewal the sense is that due to financial fair play there mightn’t be room to add Messi to an already illustrious front line.
For Barca fans around the world, does this spell the end of his glorious and historic spell at one of the world's biggest clubs? Not necessarily there may be light at the end of the tunnel yet.
On a personal note, his family consider Barcelona home, and have an incredible and settled set up. The mere thought of uprooting his family to a different city led to tears from his kids, which must have pulled at the heartstrings too. On a professional level, the upcoming elections give a sense of hope but there are glimpses that Messi is finding his form after a slow start to the season. Shots are now hitting the target, movements are sharper all of which spells danger for opposition. The emergence of potential superstars such as Ansu Fati, before his injury, and more recently Pedri have led to Messi finding his rhythm. The latter especially, having only just turned 18, is seen in Spain as the new “Iniesta to his Messi” due to such natural, organic on-field connections. So no pressure kid! Although anyone who has watched Pedri’s emergence this season will know just what an incredible and potential generational talent the Blaugrana have on their hands, who will be unfazed by such lofty comparisons. The uber talented and often frustrating Ousmane Demebele is also showing more signs of why Barcelona splashed out an eye watering 140 million euro, so it's not all doom and gloom on the pitch at least.
Messi is playing with a smile on his face again something we haven't seen in a long, long time, and now has found players on his wavelength, So whether this is his final push to give the club one more piece of silverware and go out with his head held high or, just as Ronaldinho did with him in 2005, plan to stay just a little while longer and guide these younger stars in their fledgling journey remains to be seen. But the option of hanging around has become more of a likely option now than it did in recent months.
Either way, the hunger for trophies in a serial winner such as “La Pulga” is as strong as ever and this desire will take precedent with so few years left at the top. But there is one thing for sure this rollercoaster ride of an affair is not quite over just yet, and undoubtedly has a few more twists and turns left before docking for the next star to take his seat on the crazy ride.
Darryl Geraghty (@Darryl_Geraghty)