Lionel Messi expected to be at Barcelona through 2022, doctor says

BARCELONA, Spain — When Lionel Messi turns 168 in early August, it’s expected he’ll be among the global leaders in a very specific category: the average number of years he remains eligible to play for soccer’s biggest club.

Since ending Manchester United’s Champions League hopes in the quarterfinals in 2003, Messi has played the entire club season four times, when defending his 10th domestic league title, and once with Argentina and once in the Champions League as he finished his 123rd cap last season.

And on Monday, Argentina’s team doctor confirmed that he is expected to have no problem continuing into 2022.

“Praise the Lord and he’ll last for another 10 years,” Argentina’s Carlos Marroquin said Monday.

Marroquin is the same doctor who examined Messi after surgery a few days after he suffered a nagging groin strain during the Argentina squad’s training for the World Cup. Messi had no damage to his injury because “the tendon was reinforced to remove some friction,” Marroquin said.

After a six-week rehabilitation program for the injury, Messi returned to the national team and on Sunday scored twice to lead Argentina to a 7-1 win over Venezuela to win the Copa America Centenario title.

The “Little Master” will receive a very lucrative contract to extend his contract with Barcelona this summer, said his father and trainer, Jorge Messi.

“In the coming days we’ll sign the renewal. It’s a little late for it to be presented when the rest of the signing are done, which will be this week,” Jorge Messi said after the Copa America title. “We’ll sign the renewal this week, before I go away to Moscow next month.”

A vote by the players’ union in 2012 ruled that Messi can’t renew his contract before he turns 27, giving the Argentine legend a maximum of another nine years with Barcelona.

That was already celebrated by Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli, a Barcelona great, who said recently that “until Messi celebrates his 18th birthday, he’ll continue being our No. 1.”

Messi joined the Barcelona first team at 15 after being spotted during a team-organized tournament when he was 16. Since his debut at 16, he has won the league title five times, the Spanish Cup twice, the European Cup once and the Champions League once.

This season, Messi has gotten off to a slow start with four goals in 28 appearances for Barcelona, including one in his side’s 2-0 win over Sevilla in the Spanish league on Sunday. In the Copa America final, Messi played with the “false nine” forward position because of his team’s 2-0 lead.

“Don’t be surprised if you see Lionel Barca next season running away with the league and the Copa del Rey,” Jorge Messi said Sunday.

Messi turned 27 on Dec. 24, 2012, and since then he has competed for his country 127 times. In last year’s Copa America finals, Messi scored six goals, including two in the final, to lead Argentina to the title for the first time since 1993.

For the last decade, Luis Suarez has been the Barcelona player to spend most time with the Spanish league title in the club’s possession. Suarez has played the last nine seasons for Barcelona since joining from Liverpool in 2011. Barcelona hasn’t won the league title since Messi’s debut in 2009.

Sergio Busquets, 27, is the other Barcelona player to leave more time in the club’s possession than Messi. Since his debut in 2007, he has played a decade at Barcelona and is now in his sixth season with the Spanish national team.

What would be left for Messi to lead?

“We have to wait and see because he’s always been like that,” Marroquin said, adding that “when Lionel finishes his contract and moves on, there will be two or three generations. It’s a difficult league to penetrate.”

A player like Messi or Luis Suarez, Marroquin said, is going to have a tough time to play for a club with as many fans as Barcelona has.

“With such powerful and passionate teams like Barca and Arsenal, the real players play to a particular group, just like he does at Barca, just like the Arsenal players,” Marroquin said. “There are no competitors like those kind of players.”

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