Lionel Messi shocked the footballing world this week when news broke he had demanded Barcelona release him from his contract. Many believe it’s a ‘power move’ to oust the Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu. Others believe he has grown weary of Barca’s inability to challenge for the Champions League.

Get it now? The ‘fax’ behind… no? Because it’s refering to an actual fax, but… it sounds like…
Okay, I’ll stop!

This inevitably leads to questions where he will land. With rumours that Luis Suarez may be released from his contract, there is suggestion ‘MSN’ could reunite in Paris for PSG.

Alternatively, will he gravitate towards Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. The manager with whom he enjoyed his most successful period as a player, winning three La Liga titles and two UEFA Champions Leagues.

Ignoring the ‘who’ for now, let’s instead look at the ‘what’. What would Lionel Messi offer to any interested parties?

Messi’s to Leave Barcelona: Is he Still Superhuman?

Having already recently looked at his finishing on the site, instead, we will assess whether the 33-year-old forward is showing any signs of slowing down.

Moving average of Open-Play Expected Goal Involvement for Lionel Messi over the last six seasons. Data as of Thu, 20 August 2020.
Moving average of Open-Play Expected Goal Involvement for Lionel Messi over the last six seasons. Data as of Thu, 20 August 2020.

By mere mortal standards, Lionel Messi still appears to be putting up superhuman performances season to season.

However, his twenty-five goals last season represent his lowest haul in ten years. He also hasn’t broken the forty-goals barrier in any of his last five seasons; something that was a regular occurrence for ‘peak Messi’ towards the start of this decade.

Messi’s to Leave Barcelona: Availability vs Ability

Messi's to Leave Barcelona: Lionel Messi's career minutes played (orange bar), goals scored (black line) and assists (gold line) in all competitions for Barcelona.
Lionel Messi’s career minutes played (orange bar), goals scored (black line) and assists (gold line) in all competitions for Barcelona.

It is quite clear to see that rather than saying Messi’s output is declining with age, it’s more an issue of availability. Few players in the history of football will have as many minutes on the clock as Lionel has at the age of thirty-three.

As with most players, this will likely see him needing more periods of rest. Or the risk is he accumulates more injuries in terms of frequency and/or duration.

Interestingly, while Ronaldo evolved into more of a pure goalscorer to reduce his workload when on the pitch, it seems Messi will continue to be involved deeper as a playmaker but may no longer get in the box as frequently, scoring fewer goals as a result.

None of this is to say Messi is no longer the best player in the world. Just that he may not be capable of playing the same number of minutes and producing the same numbers as his peak years of between twenty-two and thirty.

A glossary of all the terms used in this article and throughout the site as a whole is available here. Also, click on any image in the article for full-size high definition version.

All data used in our articles is sourced from Understat, FBRef, Sofascore, Transfermarkt and 538.

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