While Lionel Messi is not close to retirement just yet, Barcelona have started the process of preparing for when he is no longer with them.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu admits the LaLiga champions are already preparing for life after Lionel Messi, but he expects the star to play a few more years. Messi, 31, delivered another masterclass as Barça beat Liverpool 3-0 in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday.
The star forward struck with an incredible free-kick to bring up 600 goals at Barcelona, the club he joined aged 13. While Bartomeu feels Messi will remain at Barça for several more years, he said they were slowly planning for the future.
The unthinkable - life after Messi
"He might even play until he's 45, who knows? We know he'll play three, four, five years more, we don't know how many – as many as he wants," he said, via The Guardian. "We're preparing. Players like [Ousmane] Dembélé, [Clément] Lenglet, Arthur are there to build a team for when Messi stops playing, but I still see it as a long way off. I don't think that day is near. And we tell the players who play and train with him: 'Make the most of every minute'. We are talking to the family but it's very early to say. He's a footballer. So we talk football, but he will stay here with us. He's a club man. I talk always about Pelé, who was always associated with Santos, the only place he played. Leo belongs to world football, but he has always lived at Barca. He will be a one-club man. Leo will never leave. He'll stop playing, but he'll always be with us."
24 hours ago at the Camp Nou ... pic.twitter.com/J29E90MavQ— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) May 2, 2019
Messi is a genius - Bartomeu
Messi is a five-time Ballon d'Or winner among numerous other honours, having helped Barcelona claim 10 LaLiga titles and four Champions Leagues. He is favourite to win this year's Ballon d'Or and Golden Shoe award
Bartomeu said that while Messi is incredible, he has made his feats seem normal. "Leo is a genius and it's been so, so many seasons, so, so many games," he said. "We live an extraordinary era but for our fans, it feels normal."
How long has Messi got left at the top level?
The key question facing Barcelona is how long has Leo Messi got left before his powers begin to wane? While Bartomeu suggests Messi might have another three to four years at the top level, no one really knows. Two years seems feasible - by that time he would be 33 (bearing in mind that Cristiano Ronaldo is 34). Much of it will depend on whether he can avoid any serious injuries and while he might lose some of the explosive pace of his youth, Messi has intelligently managed to adapt his game as the years have rolled by. That will continue to be the case over the coming years in which he might play in a slighly deeper role, be rested more... etc.