Lionel Messi is still the best player in the world. It’s a fact many seem to have forgotten, with some suggesting that a return to Argentina or a stint in the United States could be on the cards for the great man now that he’s leaving Barcelona.
Messi led Argentina to the Copa America over the summer, their first title since 1993. The 34-year-old was the player of the tournament, scoring four goals and providing five assists as his beloved Argentina went on to beat Brazil in the final in Rio de Janeiro; the same city and stadium they lost the 2014 World Cup final to Germany in.
It was an exorcism of sorts for Messi. He’s never been loved in his homeland like he is in Catalonia, and he’s never delivered the success he achieved with his club for his country. Lifting that title – one the great Diego Maradona never managed, remember – was a weight off his shoulders, evidenced by the more playful side to his personality he revealed on social media in its aftermath.
He holidayed with his family, his wife Antonella and his three children, in Miami before a stint in Ibiza, where he also spent time with Luis Suarez, Cesc Fabregas and Neymar, and their respective families. He returned to Barcelona on Wednesday evening, tanned and relaxed, and everyone thought a renewal was imminent.
Of course, it wasn’t, and due to the cited roadblock of La Liga’s financial and structural framework he was forced to leave the club and the city he’s called his home since he was 13 years of age. He gave a tearful farewell press conference on Sunday to close the chapter. Paris Saint-Germain, reports suggest, are waiting.
The French giants won’t be recruiting a fading star, and they know it well. The last goal Messi scored in the Champions League was against PSG, after all, a stunning effort from outside the area at the Parc des Princes. Messi won the Pichichi with Barcelona last season – the award given to La Liga’s top scorer – scoring 30 league goals and providing eleven assists in 35 games. In total, he’s notched 672 goals and 305 assists for the club in 778 games.
Messi will find friends and foes in Paris. Neymar is there, as is Sergio Ramos, the Real Madrid captain he’s shared so much rancour with over the years. One would expect, however, that they’ll unite at the Parc des Princes, bonded by shared experience, the same tongue and a raging desire to prove they’re still the best of the best, intergalactic talents. PSG want the Champions League, the title they’ve never won, and so do Messi and Ramos. The pair have eight of them between them, after all.
It’s sad to see Messi leave Barcelona, but it’s going to be fascinating to see how he adapts to a new environment. He’ll find a star-studded roster in Paris, not the mixed bag he’s leaving behind. Outside of narrative and emotion, what sets Messi apart from every other human being on God’s green earth is his extraterrestrial ability with a football. Messi can do what nobody else can, and do it in a way nobody else could even conceptualise, let along imitate. Let’s count ourselves lucky that we’re going to get a couple more years of the man doing what he does best.