Lionel Messi is a different Lionel Messi to the one we knew before. For as long as the boy became a man, he’s been burdened with his inability to lead his beloved Argentina to glory like Diego Maradona, the man he’ll always be compared to, did. That’s all changed now, however. Messi was instrumental as Argentina won the Copa America, beating Brazil in the final in Rio de Janeiro.
Messi scored four goals and contributed five assists as Argentina did what they’ve been unable to do since 1993 – lift a major title. Doing so at an empty Maracana wasn’t quite as iconic an image as Maradona lifting it at a packed Azteca, but the message is the same. Messi has delivered for his country, and will now prepare to go into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar from a position of strength.
The lead up to that World Cup, we now believe, he’ll spend at Barcelona, the club he joined as a child and has represented ever since. His contract with Barcelona expired during the Copa America, meaning that for the first time since he arrived in Catalonia he’s currently a free agent. An agreement with Joan Laporta for him to renew was reportedly closed a number of weeks ago, however, and now it’s just a matter of Barcelona getting their finances in order to be able to make the deal official.
In the meantime, Messi’s been enjoying himself like never before. The 34-year-old is legendarily private, but since winning the Copa America he’s been sharing his personal life on Instagram like never before, showing a jovial and mischievous side to his personality never before seen. He and his wife, Antonella, as well as their three children, went to Miami first on vacation before heading to Ibiza, where they spent time with former teammates Luis Suarez and Cesc Fabregas and their respective families.
Messi returned to Barcelona on Wednesday evening, sparking rumours that a renewal announcement was imminent in the coming hours – a belief strengthened by an injection of €2.7bn into La Liga by an American investment fund earlier that day. Reports indicate that Laporta wants Messi to give his captain’s address this Sunday, when Barcelona take on Juventus in the final of the Joan Gamper Trophy at the Estadi Johan Cruyff.
Needless to say given his performance at the Copa America, Messi is now a 34-year-old but his powers aren’t waning. The many shirtless images that have emerged of him over the summer shows a man in serious nick, and a Pichichi-winning season that saw him score 30 goals and contribute eleven assists in La Liga alone last term would be a career-high record for most; if you think he can retain his title as top scorer, see here for for a great place to lay down your bet. The question now is how this content, playful and fearless Messi approaches his game this coming season. We can’t wait to find out.