Analysis

When will Lionel Messi retire? Spanish football experts have their say

Leo Messi

As we enter a new decade, how much longer will the diminutive genius continue to delight us? We asked pundits such as Guillem Balague and Graham Hunter to predict when the Argentinian superstar will hang up his boots

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Good news, everyone: we could be seeing a lot more of Lionel Messi in the coming months. After a summer of wrangles over British broadcasting rights for La Liga, the Spanish league has a new permanent home on UK TV screens.

Next week sees the launch of LaLigaTV, the new 24/7 channel completely dedicated to Spanish football and its top flight, with exclusive rights to all of the games featuring Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico and co. Launched as part of La Liga’s three-season broadcast agreement (2019-2022) with Premier Sports, LaLigaTV will launch their standalone TV channel in the UK from 13th January.

It got us at FFT Towers wondering just how much longer Messi will continue to grace us with his presence – even if only via TV satellite. At 32 years of age, Barcelona's No.10 must surely be starting to think about his final bow.

So, FourFourTwo decided to get onto LaLigaTV’s expert panellists – figuring if anyone will know, they do – on when they think Messi could hang up his iconic Barcelona shirt, and whether that day is coming sooner rather than later.

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Spanish football expert Guillem Balague is no stranger to those who want the latest rumour involving Spanish football – and he thinks that Messi’s contract situation at Barcelona could dictate his future.

Balague told us: “He’s got a clause in his contract where he could leave in the summer of 2020 – but he’s not going to activate that.

“He’s got one year left on his current contract and after that it will be a rolling one-year deal.

“So I think he’s playing with his own mind and he’s telling no one what his plans are because he doesn’t know himself.”

Balague added that the Argentine forward is playing mind games with the Barcelona board about a new contract, but says it is unlikely to lead to Messi leaving Camp Nou in the near future.

He added: “Recently after winning the Ballon D’Or, he said that he was reaching the end but still got many years to go. He’s sending a message to the board and telling them to start planning on what is going to happen next.

“But if it’s a question of asking how he feels right now, he’s the most complete, happy and content he’s ever been.

“There have unsettling times, some of them not so long ago. But now he’s fine. Why would he leave Barcelona? Let’s see year by year.”

While the politics of Messi’s contract is an important issue for Barcelona, fellow pundit Graham Hunter believes that the player’s competitive edge is the key factor when it comes to Messi’s future.

Hunter said: “He’s never a settler, he’s not someone who goes ‘I need a two-year contract because I need another €90m euros in the bank’. It’s ‘how do I keep winning?’

“He’s driven by competitiveness. His love for the ball is massive and I hope that keeps him on a pitch, at a professional level until at least 38 maybe longer.

“I don’t think he’ll ever coach. So when he stops, it’s going to be a big void so I think he’ll delay that for as long as possible.”

However, Hunter also says that Barcelona have a responsibility to build a team around him that is capable of competing for trophies – or risk losing the Argentine to another club

He added: “When you speak to those around him you realised he’s the most competitive guy and he’ll never lose that.

“So as long as the physical attributes are still there he’ll keep on going - unless something untoward happens, and that could include Barcelona not building a proper team for him. I wouldn’t rule out a move one day, because he could get tired of not winning.”

Graham Hunter thinks he’ll last until 38, but fellow pundit Pete Jenson thinks Messi’s farewell could come a little earlier than that.

He believes Messi could follow the path made by Gianfranco Zola, who Jenson describes as a similar build to Messi.

Jenson said: “I think back to Gianfranco Zola, who’s a similar sort of build and similar type of player and he played until he’s 36.

“Messi’s 32 so we have maybe got three or four years at least if he wants to keep on playing. Maybe more. There is no decline in Messi and I don’t think he wants to play anywhere else.”

Meanwhile, Viva La Liga presenter Simon Hanley thinks that Messi could well make the move back to his native Argentina, but feels that he could play anywhere in the world and branded the Barcelona captain as undroppable.

Hanley said: “He could play anywhere on the pitch – if you look at him now he is the best number nine in the world.

“He’s also the best No.10, No.8, No.7 – he’d probably be a good right-back!

“If he decides to do two more years and then move to Rosario to play for Newells Old Boys, he can do that. He can do whatever he wants because he’s earned that right.

“If he wants to play for six more years and win five more Champions Leagues then he’ll keep playing. Who’s going to be the manager who drops him if he’s still motivated and hungry?”

Meanwhile, fellow presenter Semra Hunter says that Messi is already preserving his energy as injury could play a part in his future at Barcelona.

When asked if Messi could maintain his level at the top, she said: “As long as he takes care of himself and he does not get too many injuries.

“If you watch him, he doesn’t run for 90 minutes, he picks and chooses his moments when to sprint and when to conserve his energy. So he’s very good at reserving those times to do that sort of thing.”

All La Liga fixtures on the weekend of 17th-19th January and 24th-26th January will be available free for Sky TV customers, after which it will be available for Sky TV box and channel subscribers for £5.99 a month or £49 a year.

There will also be regular preview and reaction shows throughout the week where some of the top Spanish experts analyse all the action and talking points.

LaLigaTV is available on SKY TV from 13th January. LaLigaTV is the only way to watch all of La Liga, all in one place.

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