Lionel Messi at 35: Could this be PSG and Argentina superstar's defining year?

By Sports Desk June 24, 2022

To suggest the next 12 months may well define Lionel Messi's career would be doing a disservice to what we have witnessed up close over the past 18 campaigns. 

From boy wonder to the greatest player ever in the view of many, and now into a new chapter with Paris Saint-Germain, the Argentina forward has nothing to prove to anyone.

And yet on the day he turns 35 – the average age of retirement for a footballer – questions continue to be asked of Messi. 

Will he win a World Cup – still in the eyes of many the real barometer of a truly great player, even in the era of the Champions League – before he retires? 

Can he prove himself in a different country after a mixed first season in France? Both of those questions will be answered before he celebrates his 36th birthday in a year's time.

Stats Perform looks at how Messi's game has already changed, and whether he is still capable of inspiring club and country to glory in possibly the biggest year of his career.
 

MESSI 2.0

Ten months have passed since the shock announcement that Messi was bringing an end to his 21-year association with Barcelona to join Ligue 1 giants PSG.

By his own high standards, Messi's first campaign in Paris was far from great. He scored 11 goals in 34 appearances, down on the 38 scored in his last season with Barca.

And those 11 goals came from an expected goals (xG) value of 16.8, meaning he scored 5.8 goals fewer than he should have based on the quality of his chances.

Among players in Europe's top-five leagues in all competitions last season, only six others had a worse return, with Lille striker Burak Yilmaz (8.11 differential) topping the list.

There were extenuating circumstances, of course, with Messi himself recently opening up on just how badly he struggled after testing positive for coronavirus in January.

The La Masia product also had to adapt to life outside the place he had called home for more than two decades, seeing him take on an entirely different role.

While his scoring figures dropped considerably, Messi set up 14 league goals – only once in his last five seasons at Camp Nou (21 in 2019-20) did he assist more in a campaign.

The majority of his assists last season came from a left-of-centre position outside the box, where he predominantly played alongside Neymar and just off Kylian Mbappe.


RONALDO SHOWS THE WAY

The 11 goals Messi scored at the age of 34 is his lowest return since the eight he netted when aged 18 and still in the infancy of his Barcelona career.

While that can be put down to a change of scenery, and being in the unfamiliar role of having to play second-fiddle to Mbappe, age is also surely a factor.

At 35 – or 34 as he was last season – Messi will inevitably have to rely more on his footballing brain than his legs to give him an advantage over opponents.

As showed by Cristiano Ronaldo, though, age is just a number when it comes to the very best, the Portugal star having scored 75 goals in 102 games since his 35th birthday.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, four months shy of his 41st birthday, has scored an impressive 112 goals in 174 appearances since hitting 35, an age often perceived as being 'over the hill'.


ALL EYES ON QATAR

Playing a supporting role may well be something we must come accustomed to when it comes to club level, but for Argentina Messi very much still remains the main man.

That was clear to see earlier this month when, in his final game in a gruelling campaign, Messi scored all five of Argentina's goals in their thumping friendly win over Estonia.

That five-goal showing rightly attracted plenty of focus, though it was arguably four days earlier in his side's 3-0 'Finalissima' victory over Italy that Messi truly showed his quality.

Messi pulled the strings from a slightly deeper position as Argentina, who also boast the likes of Lautaro Martinez, Angel Di Maria and Paulo Dybala, showed their credentials.

He assisted two of Argentina's three goals, including a delightful turn to leave Giovanni Di Lorenzo trailing in his wake before setting up Martinez for a simple finish. 

On the back of ending their 28-year wait for silverware in 2021 with victory at the Copa America, Lionel Scaloni's men now look good value to challenge for the World Cup.

Regardless of any more titles he adds to his collection at PSG, Messi lifting the most famous trophy of them all in Qatar later this year would be the defining image of his career.

Different now he may be, but Messi has a chance to show in his 35th year that he has plenty more left in the tank to turn a great career into the greatest.

Related items

  • Klopp expects Liverpool to get three points if Man Utd protests cause fixture cancellation Klopp expects Liverpool to get three points if Man Utd protests cause fixture cancellation

    Jurgen Klopp wants Liverpool to be awarded the three points if their game with Manchester United on Monday at Old Trafford is called off due to fan protests.

    United supporter group 'The 1958' this week announced plans to protest against the "vile ownership" and show the Glazer family "this time it will not blow over."

    Fan protests ahead of the game between the two clubs in May 2021, when fans gained access to the stadium despite the game being scheduled behind closed doors due to COVID-19 protocols, caused the contest to be postponed, with Liverpool winning the rearranged fixture 4-2 a week and a half later.

    When asked at a press conference on Friday if the club has made plans for a similar situation on Monday, Klopp said: "Yeah, we will get on the bus and go home.

    "I really hope it doesn't happen but if it happens I think we should get the points. We have nothing to do with the situation. If that happens the supporters want the game to not happen then we cannot just rearrange the game again and fit it in somewhere in an incredibly busy [calendar].

    "I don't think and really hope this will not happen. I have no idea what could happen, I don't think about it. Hopefully, we are fine, we go there, play the game and go home. But if, and I think always in this situation like this, the other team should get the points because they have nothing to do with it. They have prepared for it."

    Neither side has won a game yet this season after two matches each, with Liverpool drawing twice and United losing both matches.

    Questions are already being asked about whether new Red Devils boss Erik ten Hag will be able to get his team to play his pressing style effectively, and Klopp refused to comment on a query about if United's squad would be capable of adapting.

    However, he did provide some insight to his own experience when he arrived at Liverpool in October 2015, citing his first game in charge - a goalless draw at Tottenham.

    "I loved our first game," he reminisced. "We had two days. It was a Saturday game so the players came back from internationals on the Wednesday, and we had Thursday, Friday, not really to train, to recover and then to have one session.

    "For the first impression of an idea, it was outstanding. I still can see Adam Lallana flying around and pressing everybody who had a different shirt, so that was really cool. A cool first sign for me, yeah, but that's it."

  • Madrid express gratitude to 'exemplary' Man Utd-bound Casemiro Madrid express gratitude to 'exemplary' Man Utd-bound Casemiro

    Real Madrid have expressed "gratitude and appreciation" to "exemplary player" Casemiro ahead of his move to Manchester United.

    United have agreed a fee reported to be £60million plus £10m in add-ons to take the midfielder to Old Trafford.

    The Brazil international is set to sign a four-year deal with the Red Devils, who are bottom of the Premier League after losing their first two Premier League games under new boss Erik ten Hag.

    Casemiro joined Los Blancos in January 2013 at the age of 20 and has gone on to win 18 trophies - including the Champions League five times, three LaLiga titles and the Club World Cup on three occasions.

    The 30-year-old will appear before the media in the press room at Real Madrid City on Monday, when president Florentino Perez will be present as the LaLiga champions stage a ceremony to bid farewell to the long-serving enforcer.

    Madrid paid tribute to Casemiro after confirming a deal has been agreed with the Red Devils on Friday.

    A statement on the club's official website said: "Real Madrid would like to express its gratitude and appreciation to Casemiro, who is part of the club's history."

    After listing his many honours during his time in the Spanish capital, the European champions added: "In addition to this brilliant list of achievements, Casemiro will always be remembered by the Madridistas as representing the values of our club. An exemplary player who has given his all for Real Madrid.

    "Real Madrid is and always will be his home, and we wish him and all his family the best of luck in this new chapter of his life.

    With United facing Liverpool on the same day of Casemiro's press conference in Madrid, his debut could come at Southampton a week on Saturday.

  • Man Utd agree Casemiro deal in principle Man Utd agree Casemiro deal in principle

    Manchester United have agreed a deal in principle to sign midfielder Casemiro from Real Madrid for a fee in the region of £60million.

    The Brazil international is set to become the fourth arrival of this window after Tyrell Malacia, Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez.

    Casemiro, who had three years remaining on his contract with Madrid, brings plenty of quality and experience to Erik ten Hag's midfield after racking up over 300 appearances during nine trophy-filled years at Santiago Bernabeu.

    Indeed, the 30-year-old won five Champions Leagues with Los Blancos - scoring against Juventus in the 2017 final - as well as four LaLiga titles and three Club World Cups.

    Casemiro struggled to nail down a regular spot following his move to Madrid from Sao Paulo in 2013; spending the 2014-15 season on loan at Portuguese giants Porto.

    However, he did not look back after cementing his place in the starting line-up during the 2015-16 campaign, with no midfielder winning more tackles in LaLiga since then (415).

    The Brazilian has also completed 368 interceptions in the past seven seasons - with Dani Garcia (399) the sole midfielder to better that tally - while Dani Parejo (1,666) and Sergio Busquets (1,504) were the only players in his position to win possession on more occasions than him (1,462).

     

    Ten Hag has been keen to bolster his ranks in midfield ever since assuming the reins at Old Trafford, with Eriksen's arrival the first piece of that jigsaw.

    But by and large it has been a window of frustration for United, who have spent the majority of the past few months pursuing Barcelona star Frenkie de Jong only to hit several bumps in the road.

    A deal was reportedly agreed with Juventus for Adrien Rabiot only for that transfer to break down due to the player's excessive wage demands.

    That led United to Casemiro, with rumours over the move only surfacing on Thursday.

    But the transfer appeared all but done when Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti confirmed Casemiro had expressed a desire to complete a move away from the Spanish capital.

    "We've spoken this morning, he wants to try a new challenge, a new opportunity. I understand this, also the club does," Ancelotti said on Friday.

    "Because of what he has done in this club, his desire and due to everything he has done for this team, we need to be respectful of this.

    "There are negotiations between the clubs, he is still a Real Madrid player but it looks like he is now willing to depart. If he is departing we have a lot of resources to replace him.

    "I've always talked a lot with him in my second time at Real Madrid. I just listened to his desire, I think there's no turning back. This is what he wants."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.