Lionel Messi has, in my opinion, been the best footballer on the planet for over 10 years.
Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo has run him closest. But when you gather together all the evidence; the goals, the assists, the dribbling, the chance creation, Messi comes out on top. Over and over again.
If your life depended on it, you’d put Messi on a free-kick. You’d want him threading a through ball. And you’d want him on running onto it.
We have been so blessed to witness the emergence, the rise, the peak of the greatest to ever play the game. But are we now watching the end?
Messi’s scoring has slowly waned in recent seasons but now, for the first time, he truly looks human. He looks, well, he looks kind of average?
Strip out penalties and he’s scored just once in his seven Barcelona appearances so far this season.
Last season he scored 0.62 non-penalty goals per 90 minutes on the pitch in LaLiga, his worst return since the 2007/08 season, when he was just 20 and still establishing himself as one of the world’s top talents.
In every season since, he has averaged more than a goal or assist, even discounting penalties, every 90 minutes. Even last season, as his scoring slowed down but he provided a career-best 21 LaLiga assists.
This season, though, he is contributing to just 0.15 goals and assists per 90 minutes, once you ignore his efforts from 12-yards.
Maybe that’s because Ronald Koeman is changing how this team plays, making them less dependant on Messi. And with Ansu Fati injured, it’s possible Messi will be on the end of moves more often again.
Maybe it’s been a bad run, some bad luck in front of goal, and this article will look very silly by Christmas. After all, he was benched by Ronald Koeman when Barcelona faced Real Betis two weeks ago, only to come on at half-time and turn the game on its head.
Maybe Messi’s focus just isn’t at Barcelona anymore after he tried to leave in the summer?
Or maybe, just maybe, this is what Messi is now that he’s 33.
Just another supremely talented footballer, but not the gold standard footballer that sets the bar for everyone.
None of this, by the way, detracts from what the Argentine has achieved through the years. He remains the best creator, the best goalscorer, and the best dribbler I’ve ever seen.
It’s quite something that he’s been all of those things and more, and been them for so long. Players will be anointed his successor, with Kylian Mbappé first in line, but we may never see a footballer of Messi’s ilk again.
Nonetheless, you can’t escape the fact he has spent the last few years trying to hold Barcelona together and it looks to have finally taken a toll on him. He looks his age and, for the first time, he looks stoppable. It had to end eventually and this might just be that end.
Time waits for no man but Messi isn’t merely a man. Still, time may have waited long enough for the Argentinian. Age does, in the end, catch up with us all.