PARIS: At 34, Lionel Messi has reinvented himself.
He’s no longer the prolific speedy winger of his Barcelona glory days. The Argentina star has lost a bit of pace but compensates with his vision and technique to still have an impact on the game.
Messi helped Paris Saint-Germain clinch a record-tying 10th French league title on Saturday by opening the scoring in a 1-1 draw with Lens. This was Messi’s first trophy since leaving Spain last summer.
He spent his entire career with Barcelona before joining PSG, winning 10 La Liga titles as well as four Champions Leagues.
His best performances for PSG this season happened when he played in the role of a free-roaming attacking midfielder. Messi has four goals and 13 assists in the French league. That’s quite a contrast to his last season at Barcelona, where he notched 30 goals and nine assists in La Liga.
Its the first time since the 2007-08 season that Messi has more assists than goals.
His body is feeling the wear and tear after nearly 20 seasons at the top level.
Messi missed games against Metz and Montpellier in September because of a bone bruise in his left knee. He missed a game against Bordeaux in November because of pain in his knee and hamstring. A few days ago, he missed the game against Angers because of an inflammation in his left Achilles tendon.
Added up, it has been a strange season for Messi, who led Argentina to a Copa America triumph before signing with PSG. He wasn’t completely in unfamiliar territory. He'd played with Neymar at Barcelona and with Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes in the Argentina team.
Messi needed time to adapt to a new league. In his PSG debut in August, he was warmly applauded when he came off the bench in the second half against Reims. His first PSG goal was in September in the Champions League against Manchester City, but he didn't open his account in the French league until November.
Life in the French capital looked magnificent after Messi won a record seventh Ballon d’Or in November, primarily for his achievements with Barcelona and Argentina. PSG fans were happy to bask in the glow.
But after the Champions League exit in the round of 16 at the hands of Real Madrid last month, Messi and Neymar became targets of disgruntled PSG supporters, who were disappointed their team didn't fare better with two of the most expensive footballers in the world. PSG has never won the Champions League.
Messi has another year on his contract, another year to fulfil PSG's dream.
There’s no certainty that France striker Kylian Mbappe will stay with him, as his PSG contract runs out this summer. But the French league will still have Messi, who's a little slower but a lot more craftier.