The road ahead for Lionel Messi
There is no doubting the class that Argentina and Barcelona forward Lionel Messi possesses. The forward has carved a legacy perhaps closely emulated only by Cristiano Ronaldo over a career spanning almost 15 years. Considered by many as the best in the world and in some cases as the best ever, his achievements on the pitch bear mention of the highest praises one can get.
He has been an integral part of Barcelona's on-field successes since his debut in 2005 having won an astounding 33 trophies with the Blaugrana. For all they are worth, it is without mention their dependence and belief in the abilities their superstar forward possesses.
There literally seems no record beyond the reach of Messi with the 'Atomic Flea' being the all-time top goalscorer in Spanish Football, Barcelona as well as for his native Argentina which speaks volumes about the voracious appetite the man possesses for success both individually and collectively.
The 2018-19 season
Messi was named full-time club captain following the departure of previous captain and club legend Andres Iniesta and won his first piece of silverware as skipper, lifting the Spanish Super Cup. The forward started the season, as usual, maintaining a spot among the higher echelons in the league and Champions League scoring charts.
He led Barcelona to another La Liga title, his 10th league title and also to the Copa Del Rey final. They reached the Champions League semifinals and comfortably won the first leg 3-0 at home against Liverpool thanks to a brace from the skipper, the second being his 600th for the club. But somehow Barcelona shockingly stumbled out of the tournament losing 4-0 in the second leg (4-3 on aggregate) to a Liverpool side bereft off star strikers Roberto Firmino and Mohammed Salah.
More heartbreak was to follow as Barcelona were defeated by Valencia in the Copa Del Rey final 1-2 with the skipper scoring the only goal for his side but eventually ended up short in the end. The defeat also ended their four-year monopoly of domestic cup success.
From being in a position to win another treble Barcelona could only win the league and the Spanish Super Cup. For other clubs, this would be worth celebration but not for Messi and Co as many fans and experts alike having laid criticism at the manager and the team alike especially for the manner in which they exited the Champions League.
From an individual point of view though, it was another highly productive season for the Argentine. He ended up as the top goalscorer in La Liga (36), Champions League (12) and won the European Golden Boot for a record sixth time. He also ended up as the top assist provider (13) in the league. His stats for the current season stand at 73 goal contributions in 50 matches across all competitions for Barcelona.
The road ahead
Messi will look to take some time off after an enduring season and refresh before setting out to Brazil to lead his national side in the 2019 Copa America. He will be looking to add more trophies to his burgeoning collection next season by finally winning a trophy for this national team having endured heartbreaks in the previous two editions where Argentina finished runners-up.
Defeat in the 2016 Copa America (Centenario) final led to Messi tearfully announce his retirement from international duty, a call which he later reversed owing to calls from the public and football experts alike.
His return to the national side led to him taking his team through to the World Cup but led to further disappointment as 'La Albiceleste' crashed out in the Round of 16 losing to eventual champions France. The 2019 edition could be his one big chance to make a statement on the international stage by finally winning a trophy long-yearned for by him and the supporters of Argentina.
The expectation in the upcoming club campaign will once again be to compete for all trophies and improve on their League and Super Cup triumphs this season. Barcelona will remain contenders and will rekindle their quest for European supremacy. They will be expected to go two better on their semifinal finish this year and put an end to their barren run on the continental stage since their title win in 2014-15. They will also be favourites to retain the league title with Messi in charge.
As is the case every season the five-time Ballon d'Or winner has once again been considered the favourite for an unprecedented sixth individual honour given his club exploits but that also hinges a lot on his performances with Argentina and how he leads Barcelona in the upcoming season.
One thing that is certain is that the man will do his talking on the pitch. Hate him or berate him, there will always be hope and happiness for everyone when the boy from Rosario steps on to the pitch again for whichever team he represents. After all, he is a winner; a born winner.Published 03 Jun 2019, 22:18 IST