Lionel Messi turns 34: a life of records and a renewal to be signed
The Barcelona forward is into the final six days of his contract with Barcelona...
Lionel Messi turned 34 on Thursday with just six days to run on his contract at Barcelona, but closer to the club than he was a year ago.
It feels like an eternity has passed since Barça were hammered by Bayern Munich and Messi sent the club a burofax saying he wanted to leave.
Messi explained that situation himself in an interview with Jordi Evole: "A moment arrived when I felt a cycle had ended, that I needed a change, that I needed to leave all this behind due to the mess in the club at that moment."
At that time, he didn't feel there was any going back: he didn't believe in the president Josep Maria Bartomeu or in the sporting project and he didn't want to feel like a stranger in the dressing room, more detached than ever after the exits of Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal.
For him to now seem set to stay at Camp Nou, a number of factors are at play. The main one is that he's connected with the club again. He feels at home. New president Joan Laporta explained as much in an interview with La Vanguardia.
"The first thing he wants is affection, to feel comfortable and at home. He wants to smile and have a good time. To win and see that he can win. That's the only thing. He's playing a big part (in renewal talks) because he knows the effort we're making," Laporta said.
Laporta takes care of Messi. The arrival of Sergio Aguero attends to his need to feel accompanied in the dressing room. Something he didn't feel at the start of the season.
"I struggled, I wasn't in the place I wanted to be, I struggled to adapt to the dressing room because there were a lot of new people," Messi has since explained. "There weren't many people left who I had surrounded myself with, there were a lot of people from outside, new cultures..."
Laporta knew signing Aguero would help. Keeping Koeman on also played in his favour, a coach who has made Messi feel comfortable this season.
With Koeman, Messi eventually refound his form in the second half of the season. He ended the campaign with 38 goals in 47 games as Barça won the Copa del Rey and were competing for the domestic double until the final weeks of the season. He found new partnerships with Pedri, Dembele and even Griezmann.
It was a season that ended with disappointment (Barça couldn't win the league when they had it in their own hands at one point) but left good news for the future.
A Barça with Pedri, Ansu Fati, Ilaix, Riqui Puig, Eric Garcia and Depay, but also with Messi, who must be the reference point, has promise. And Koeman has already said it: the team cannot do without Messi's 30 plus goals a season.
For continuity, Barça must give Messi a contract for life. He will sign for two years but will be paid over five, with the chance to go to Major League Soccer at some point, where he will act as a Barça ambassador in the United States.
The Argentina forward is following ins and outs at Camp Nou. Laporta says he's "excited" about the new project. A season with fans back in the stands.
Messi's biggest aim is to win the Champions League again. But, above all, he wants to feel he can compete with the best, a sensation which Barça have lost in recent years, above all in Europe.
Now 34, Messi is in the final stage of his career and he has the ambition to go out with a bang.
"It's been a love story with the club and the city of Barcelona since I was very young," Messi told Evole in December. "However it ends, it shouldn't stain what's gone before in my career."
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