Argentina’s coach Diego Maradona (R) speaks to Argentina’s striker Lionel Messi prior the 2010 World … [+]
AFP via Getty Images
Josep Bartomeu was ambushed at El Prat International Airport in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Even though it had been a glorious night in Paris and the dust had not yet settled on Lionel Messi’s record sixth Ballon d’Or, the FC Barcelona president wasn’t afforded a moment of respite by members of the Catalan press.
They wanted answers, and this time he was in more of a position to give them and attempt to put their fears, and those of Barça fans worldwide, at rest with regards to the 32-year-old’s future in Blaugrana colours.
“I’ve talked to Leo many times and I know he still has a lot [left] to play. He also has a contract and will play many more years,” insisted Bartomeu.
And the renewal?
“This is something else,” Bartomeu replied, more cautiously. “Today we’re enjoying this Golden Ball, the sixth, and I think there will be many more. I’m very happy. Of course, there will be [much more] Messi for a while.”
The cocksurety of these comments had been buoyed by those by those made by Messi shortly after receiving soccer’s highest individual accolade from France Football. To a consortium of journalists, the captain had said: “People know me and know that there are no problems with that issue. What I feel for this club goes beyond any signature, any contract or any paper. It’s one more thing about how I feel and I want to feel fine while I’m at Barça.”
On how much longer he sees himself on the field, LM10 confessed: “I hope to play many more years, but I’m on my way to 33 and it depends on how I feel physically. Thank God I feel very well physically today and better than ever, on a personal and physical level.”
Though Culés will only breath easy after the Argentine has put pen to paper for once and for all, an additional question remains as to how long he can go on until.
Yesterday, SPORT ran a poll to ask its readers as such and the results were published this morning in Spain.
Among those that voted, 36% beleived that Messi would call it a day at age 36 while 19% thought at 37, 15% at 40, 14% at 35, 10% at 38, 2% at 34 or 39 and just 1% next year at 33.
Giving this deeper thought, 36 could sound about right. After all, this would coincide with the close of the 2022/2023 season, which has the Qatar World Cup midway through it, and club legend Rivaldo too thinks his that how well Argentina fare in the competition will determine his fate.
“Messi dreams of being crowned world champion and also [a winner] of the Copa América with Argentina,” said the retired Brazilian. “So, to achieve this, he must continue playing at the highest level, at least until 2022, and depending on the success he has in those two competitions, he should make a decision.”
National team coach Lionel Scaloni has also admitted that he hopes next year’s Copa America, jointly-held in their homeland and Colombia, will not be his last for the Albiceleste.
According to Albert Roca, the likelihood of Messi fulfilling Scaloni’s wishes while continuing towards Qatar and beyond is increased by how well he takes care of himself off the pitch.
“He is a player who increasingly understands his body,” explained the former FCB physical trainer to Mundo Deportivo this week. “The stress that a young player has because of the demands of the first team is not easy to manage. But this quality and knowledge of his body has meant that, over the years, he is less injured and maintains this level for so long.”
“The Messi [we saw] at the beginning [of his career] was much more explosive, [but] now we have a Messi that does not lose his explosiveness, despite showing it less, and influences very important aspects such as the organisation of the team and making the last pass,” Roca continued.
Times have changed, but it is also interesting to take a look at which points in their lives other greats decided to hang up their boots. His compatriot Maradona called time on his playing days at 37, and so too did Johan Cruyff as Pele bowed out 22 days before turning this age.
Once playing for Barça, but more famous for his exploits in the Merengue shirt of bitter rivals Real Madrid, another fellow Argentine in Alfredo Di Stefano quit his profession at 39.
Latest of all, the Hungarian that has a statue ereceted in his honour outside the Camp Nou, Ladislao Kubala, rode off into the sunset in his 40th year.
Claimed to be a pillar of discipline in knowing exactly when to sleep and what to eat, it remainst to be seen whether his insatiable thirst for silverware and the benefits of modern technology can help Messi match them.