A rare summer off for Leo Messi is still a busy one – turning 30, getting married and pondering a key 12 months for club and country
The dreaded three-O marks the point for many, where a footballer begins the slow decline from the peak of his powers to eventual retirement. If Lionel Messi were to hang up his boots tomorrow, there are enough accomplishments to already confirm his status as the greatest of all time but this summer, as the Argentinian icon reaches that milestone, is of huge significance both personally and professionally ahead of a massive year for Barcelona and Argentina.
What Messi has achieved in the twelve years since his Barcelona debut would be impossible for most players in a career that spanned a millennium but despite the little genius’ ability to play almost outside the laws of physics, time marches on and his 30th birthday celebrations at the weekend were a quiet reminder of that.
A first summer free of football in years might have been a time for reflection but aside from turning 30, Messi has also returned to his home city of Rosario to tie the knot with long-term partner and mother to sons Thiago and Mateo, Antonella Roccuzzo.
The star-studded event is already the talk of Argentina’s numerous celebrity gossip shows as every detail from guest-list, to venue, through security and menu, are dissected.
However, change is not only afoot in the house of the 30-year-old and the forthcoming year in the football calendar promises to be a big one.
The process has already begun for Argentina and Messi got his first taste of the Jorge Sampaoli regime during the friendly against Brazil in Melbourne. The captain was given time off before his wedding and so missed the thrashing of Singapore but in a World Cup year, the serious work begins now as qualification still hangs in the balance.
— AS English (@English_AS) June 26, 2017
Sampaoli’s debut victory over Tite’s resurgent Brazil saw only flashes of Messi but the new coach is acutely aware of building a side around his number ten, creating the foundation for Messi to produce his best.
Despite Messi’s level in comparison with at Barcelona being the topic of intense debate for years, Messi’s individual performances since the 2014 World Cup have made it something of a misnomer, and the Argentine public have also come round to the idea that even the best player in the world can be shackled in a disjointed and poorly coached side.
Sampaoli and Messi now have the opportunity to lift the country and if they can come through the four rounds of qualification that remain, La Albiceleste would travel to Russia with a renewed belief. In one year from now, 31-year-old Messi might just be able to achieve the goal that many still argue prevents him being regarded the greatest.
And the challenges aren’t only restricted to Argentina – Barcelona are also under new management and eager to put things right.
Ernesto Valverde has been selected to succeed Luis Enrique at the Camp Nou, following his sterling work with Athletic Club, and such is the pressure that comes with one of the biggest jobs in football, there will be no bedding in period; wrestling back the Liga and the Champions League titles from bitter rivals Real Madrid will be the first order of business.
— B/R Football (@brfootball) June 24, 2017
Before the season even begins, Messi will reportedly put an end to the protracted contract talks and put pen to paper on a new deal that runs until 2021, but could be extended by another year, potentially being his last with the club.
Missing out on top honours, with Barcelona and the 2016 Copa America last season, will likely not see Messi add to his five Ballon d’Ors in January but that isn’t to say, it wasn’t an impressive year on a personal level.
The Argentinian chalked up his 500th career goal, and is already both the national team and Barcelona’s leading goal scorer as records continue to tumble every season and show no signs of stopping.
Messi might now be 30 but with so many challenges ahead, write the maestro off at your peril.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has scored more than 250 goals since leaving his twenties and if Messi does the same, don’t bet against many more titles with Barcelona, an end to Argentina’s trophy drought and at least another Ballon d’Or.