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Lionel Messi’s performance against Dortmund shows he has many more years at the top

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Lionel Messi's performance against Dortmund shows he has many more years at the top - Lionel Messi, Barcelona

“Surely it will be the wish of all parties, if Lionel Messi feels strong and ambitious, to extend this contract indefinitely”.

“Ultimately it is he who must decide. He has earned the right to decide when he will stop playing football. But like he said a few weeks ago, he wants to finish his playing career at Barcelona.

“Over the next two or three seasons our leader will continue to be Leo Messi. There’s no doubt that he is still young, still strong. He is still ambitious.

“So Leo Messi will still play with us for the next two, three, four or five years. I have no doubts about that.”
These were the words of Barcelona president Bartomeu after Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick, including two free-kicks, following a 4-1 thrashing of Celta Vigo three weeks ago.

And he wasn’t wrong, not by any stretch of the imagination. That’s why he’s regarded as one of the greatest. At 32, he still dominates at the highest level on the biggest stage.

Once again when Barcelona faced Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night, Messi was their talisman as he scored and set up two goals as Barcelona clinched their spot in the knockout stages of the Champions League in a match that showed that there is no veteran rust in him.

At 33, Zinedine Zidane retired from professional football. At 33, Kaka was playing in the MLS and Ronaldinho was playing back in his country with Atletico-MG as per Transfermarkt. These are some of the greats that ever kicked a ball and at a similar age, as Messi is now, they were already past their prime.

Lionel Messi's performance against Dortmund shows he has many more years at the top - Lionel Messi, Barcelona

Approaching 33 at the end of the season, Messi is showing no signs of slowing down just yet. Even his arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo has seen a downturn in his stats and influence on games (club football) much recently but still, the Argentine keeps waxing strong.

Obviously, Lionel Messi is not the same player that he used to be a decade ago or even five years ago when he used to breeze past players with his acceleration and change of pace regularly in games. He has had to adapt as his physical strengths depleted a bit.

His vision and passing ability, knowledge and awareness of space and the knack to be in the right place at the right time as well as making the right decision has made him so invaluable even at his age and it would be a crime not to mention his magic from a dead ball.

Not that we should be surprised anyway.

Barcelona is his home, he has played there all his life and Wednesday’s match against Dortmund marked his 700th appearance for the club – only Xavi has played more games. In that time he has scored 613 goals and he might yet score another 50-100 goals depending on how long he remains at the club.

The fact that he has played at this club for this long, knows the philosophy which is never changing and year on remains the focal point of the team’s success makes it a lot easier.

We see situations where great players get flustered by moves to another league and all of a sudden, he is not the player he used to be.

In Lionel Messi’s case, his longevity at Barcelona has seen him understand everything about the football of the club and for him, it is almost like muscle memory when he plays for Barcelona. It could possibly explain why he is not as successful at international level.

Barcelona have been and will always be a team that wants to dominate possession and hunt down the ball immediately after they lose it.

Messi’s familiarity with this style and the tactics of the present manager, Ernesto Valverde has taken most of the defensive responsibility off him as they sometimes play with a 4-4-2 without the ball.

Some of these factors play a role in Messi’s continued dominance but we can’t take anything away from the immense quality this man possesses. For the best part of 15 years he has been up there as the best in the world and he will continue to be the best for the foreseeable future.

One potential drawback could be injuries. He has been having some nagging injuries in the past few seasons and this may threaten his longevity in the game as it does to most ageing players.

What Lionel Messi has done is to change his game to stay fit for as long as possible. As long as he stays fit, Messi still has no limits and can still remain at the top for many years at Barcelona.

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