It’s 400 goals and counting for Lionel Messi. At the age of just 27 – a period in a player’s career when they are generally expected to be hitting their prime – the Argentinian has already reached what would usually be considered a career-spanning milestone, and one that few have emulated in the modern game. The landmark goal was scored in Barcelona‘s 6-0 drubbing of Granada over the weekend, and is further evidence – as if any more was really needed – that Messi is one of the greatest players to have ever played the game.
So preposterously long is the list of his records, achievements and honours that Messi could have been forgiven for forgetting that his goal carried such significance. Scoring in almost every match he plays, and often in spectactular style, is simply part of the job, and rather than bask in the glory of his seldom-surpassed accomplishment, the Argentinian was quick to focus on what he does best, finding the net in Barcelona’s next match against Paris Saint-Germain.
Nevertheless, even superhumans like Messi fall foul to the inevitable passing of time, and there are signs that after reaching its everestian peak, the Argentinian’s genius is regrettably on the wane. This realisation has been made all the more painful when we consider the fact that Messi’s long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo appears to be defying the laws of human biology by becoming stronger, faster and more prolific with age, threatening not only Messi’s status as the best player of his generation, but also his recognition as the greatest footballer of all time.
Messi’s supposed decline is only a plausible argument when he is compared to Ronaldo. Pit the Barcelona man against anyone else and the claim that he is past it becomes ridiculous. His total of 41 goals in 46 appearances last season is a tally that few others would be able to achieve just once in their entire careers, yet Messi has scored in excess of 40 goals for the past five seasons in a row. With six goals already this season, he may be on course to extending this streak.
Messi and Ronaldo belong in a realm of their own, yet when these demigods of football come face-to-face in isolation, the Portguese powerhouse appears to have the current advantage over the South American star. Messi’s goals total last season was his lowest in five seasons, and whilst Ronaldo’s 51 goals was his second-lowest total since arriving at Real Madrid, he managed to score ten more goals than his rival after making just one more appearance.
The former Manchester United man has already scored a staggering 13 goals in nine games this season, which means that he is on course to record his most prolific campaign yet. At 29 years old, Ronaldo incredibly seems to be getting even better with age; Messi, on the other hand, is showing the first signs of regression, albeit a regressive state that is still far superior to the very best that most others can attain. Real’s number 7 has unsurprisingly hit the 400-goal mark as well, achieving the feat in January, and though the Portguese has an advantage given that he is 18 months older than Messi, one would wager Ronaldo hitting 500 in quicker time than the Argentinian.
Is there anything that Messi can do to reverse the early indications of his slide? One possible, if controversial idea would be to leave his beloved Barcelona and seek out a new challenge elsewhere. They key to Ronaldo’s consistent improvement as a player may be his readiness to move on when he feels that he has nothing more to give; this was the case when he left Manchester United in 2009, and it could yet happen again at the end of this season with his current club Real Madrid. Messi has won everything that can possibly be won at club level with the Blaugrana, and as a consequence his appetite for success at the Nou Camp may not be as strong as it once was.
Given that Chelsea have been linked with the Argentinian, a move to Stamford Bridge may be what Messi needs to regain the title of the greatest player in the world. The prospect of working with Jose Mourinho – very much a persona non grata at Barcelona – is an intriguing one, though the Portuguese is famed for his man management skills and fierce loyalty towards his players, which is something that might benefit Messi. Playing the English style of football would also give him the opportunity to develop and adapt his game, a flexibility which Ronaldo gained during his early years at Manchester United.
Lionel Messi is by no means a spent force, however packing his bags for West London could very well kickstart his already glittering career.
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