It’s the 30th minute of Argentina’s Copa América clash with Paraguay and Lionel Messi has the ball. The diminutive Argentine suddenly shifts his weight to his left, fooling his opposite number and creating an ocean of space for himself to move into. Argentina end up winning the game 1-0, a steady if unspectacular start to their Copa campaign.
It was an innocuous move, but one that epitomised Messi’s genius. It was subtle, without noise or extravagance, simply a logical decision taken in a split-second. It’s the kind of thing Messi does all the time, so blessed is he with an intrinsic connection between body and mind that enables him to control himself with balance and poise. This ability, to take correct decisions and transmit it to his body instantaneously, is rarer than gold.
His importance is crystal clear, but his future is muddier waters. Messi’s contract with Barcelona expires in a matter of days, and for the first time since he arrived in Catalonia as a pimply teenager he’ll no longer be contracted to the club. Only the man himself knows his plans, but if you want to back your gut feeling you can do so with BetMGM.
Captain of Argentina and Barcelona, Messi turns 34 on Thursday, and nobody would argue he’s playing at the same level he did at his supersonic peak. But he’s still the best player in the world, and he’s not suffering a decline by any stretch of the imagination. Cristiano Ronaldo, by comparison, has adapted his game to basically become a goalscoring machine. Messi, while not particularly active out of possession, is still at the heart of everything, utterly competent in the art of running games.
Messi scored 30 goals in 35 games for Barcelona in La Liga last season, contributing eleven assists. He produced five goals and two assists in the Champions League and three and one in the Copa del Rey. Barcelona were in pole position to win La Liga only to blow it on the final stretch and were humbled by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. They won the Copa, however, Messi securing a brace and a man-of-the-match performance as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in the final at La Cartuja.
Joan Laporta, Barcelona’s president, has been vocal about his desire to retain the services of his talisman as well as the financial struggles that are making that objective difficult to achieve. The latest talk at Camp Nou is of a creative deal where Messi continues at Camp Nou for two seasons before heading to MLS, where he’ll continue to be paid by Barcelona as an ambassador of the club in the United States.
Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain looked best-placed to secure Messi’s signature last summer, when he tried to force an exit from Camp Nou with his infamous Burofax. Neither look as keen right now, however; City are in the midst of a wider restructure to build a team capable of winning the Champions League after losing to Chelsea in last season’s final while PSG are busy trying to keep a hold of Kylian Mbappé after tying Neymar down to a long-term contract. Paris could still be an option, but all signs are pointing to Messi staying put, especially after the arrival of his old friend Sergio Agüero.
Barcelona have talent in their squad, with two of the most exciting teenagers in the European game in Pedri and Ansu Fati. Their summer recruitment has been interesting; as well as Agüero, Laporta has brought in Memphis Depay, Eric García and Emerson, with three or four more acquisitions promised. Ronald Koeman has been assured he’ll continue as coach next season after a period of uncertainty, but he’ll be held to a higher standard than last year’s campaign. Barcelona will have to challenge seriously for both La Liga and the Champions League. Retaining Messi, a genius of body and mind, would help with that.