Despite turning 30, Lionel Messi only seems to be improving with age as the Argentinean faces five months that could see him as GOAT
It’s only February, the winners of all the major European leagues, the Champions League and perhaps most importantly, the World Cup, aren’t yet certain but there is no question who at this stage of the season is the best player on the planet.
Seven-points clear in LaLiga, still unbeaten, set to face Sevilla for the Copa del Rey and in the Champions League Last 16 against Chelsea, the Blaugrana are already dreaming of another historic treble.
With usual competitors Real Madrid a whopping 17 points off the pace, only a dramatic collapse would see Barcelona surrender the league title to Atletico Madrid, the Copa del Rey is one game away against a side Barca beat in the final two years ago, and so Messi could be given rare recovery time during the season run-in.
A fit and raring to go Messi for the Champions League knockout stages will be a huge advantage but Argentina too will be looking at the situation hoping that when June comes round, their iconic captain is in the best possible condition.
A point not lost on manager Jorge Sampaoli after his recent European tour.
“We talked about his current situation and about the fact that he can’t arrive as exhausted for the World Cup as he was four years ago,” Sampaoli told reporters back at Argentina’s training complex.
“The plan is for him to make the most of his rest periods so as to be physically and mentally fit and in top shape.”
The grueling European schedule can leave players arriving at the World Cup fatigued and although Barcelona chase a treble, the club are in a far better position to rest Messi than before.
Physically, Argentina could get the best possible Messi but what about the mentally, as Sampaoli made reference to?
At club level at least, Messi seems happier than ever after signing a hugely lucrative new contract, finally putting his tax issues with Spanish authorities behind him, and producing some of his best football under Valverde.
Messi has always been a figurehead in the Barcelona side but now has a freedom on and off the pitch, which is paying dividends for both parties. Adapting to the sale of Neymar took a period of adjustment but in Messi’s own words the side is more balanced now and this has been reflected in some of the other noticeable individual performances.
Argentina has never provided the same platform for Messi and the pain of three consecutive final defeats remains but what this labored qualifying process and the number ten’s memorable hat-trick against Ecuador did do, is bring the country closer to their captain than ever.
Emulating Barcelona and capturing Messi’s club form has always been something that Argentina managers have wrestled with. Jorge Sampaoli clearly has plenty still to do but watching the 30-year-old dropping deep for Barcelona and seeing the interplay with overlapping full-backs will provide food for thought.
With Messi anything is possible.
“He is the best player there is and the best there ever will be,” were the words of Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde. In a potential treble and World Cup year, Messi may yet kill off his dwindling critics.