Lionel Messi turned 35 on Friday, and he’s missed in LaLiga. Social media was filled with some of his career highlights - and there are plenty of those, given he’s scored 780 goals for club and country. The shadow cast by Messi, who this time last year was captaining Argentina at the Copa América in the belief that he’d renew his Barça contract, will last for years and years. He won no fewer than 10 LaLiga titles, and was a cornerstone of the Spanish league for a decade and a half.
By the end of his time in LaLiga, however, he was a bemused, weary figure. Firstly, because of the Bartomeu administration and Barça’s humiliating European defeats, which led him to take a traumatic step: handing in a transfer request by burofax created a certain degree of division, or at least incomprehension, among the club’s fans. And secondly, because of his fruitless contract negotiation, about which we are yet to get the full story. Messi still feels that club president Joan Laporta let him down. His Camp Nou career ended in floods of tears.
Messi heads into second PSG season filled with unknowns
Messi hasn’t had a good first season at Paris Saint-Germain. Essentially, all we saw were a couple of glimpses of his class against Manchester City and RB Leipzig in the Champions League group stage. After that, he was badly affected by catching covid just as he was starting to take off. And then came the fiasco at the Bernabéu, which followed his penalty miss in the first leg in Paris. The coming season should be interesting, as for the first time in his career he’ll be managed by a coach that doesn’t speak Spanish. How well he communicates with Christophe Galtier and what role he has - particularly now that Kylian Mbappé has been handed the keys to PSG - are unknowns. How motivated he’ll be, too.
Chasing World Cup triumph with Argentina
For Messi, the next frontier is really Qatar. He came so close to World Cup glory in 2014 - at a time when, incomprehensibly, there were still those who doubted him in an Argentina shirt. In the final years of his career, though, Messi has been happier in the Albiceleste fold than anywhere else. He has finally lifted a major international trophy and, thanks to head coach Lionel Scaloni, is playing in the perfect ecosystem. He’s not the same match-winner of old, but he adds the ideal final touch to a team filled with first-rate soldiers who adore their captain. Di María, Lautaro, De Paul, Paredes, Guido, Lo Celso… they’ll all run through walls for him. From this summer on, Messi’s sights will chiefly be set on the World Cup in November. He and Argentina have just romped to a 3-0 Finalissima win over Italy, and if anyone can round his career off by reaching the pinnacle of the men’s game, it’s him.