PARIS (AP) — At age 34, Lionel Messi has reinvented himself.
He is no longer the prolific fast winger from his Barcelona glory days. The Argentine star has lost some pace, but is making up for it with his vision and technique to still have an impact on the game.
Messi helped Paris Saint-Germain to a record-breaking 10th French league title on Saturday by opening the score in a 1-1 draw with Lens. This was Messi’s first trophy since he left Spain last summer.
He spent his entire career at Barcelona before joining PSG, where he won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues.
His best performances this season for PSG came when he played the role of a free-roaming attacking midfielder. Messi has four goals and 13 assists in the French league. That’s quite a contrast to his last season with Barcelona, where he scored 30 goals and nine assists in La Liga.
It is the first time since the 2007-08 season that Messi has more assists than goals.
His body feels the wear and tear after almost 20 seasons at the highest level.
Messi missed matches against Metz and Montpellier in September due to a bruise to his left knee. He missed a game against Bordeaux in November due to knee and hamstring pain. A few days ago, he missed the game against Angers due to an inflammation in his left Achilles tendon.
All in all, it was an odd season for Messi, who led Argentina to a Copa America win before signing with PSG. He wasn’t quite in uncharted territory. He played with Neymar in Barcelona and with Angel Di Maria and Leandro Paredes in the Argentina team.
Messi needed time to adapt to a new competition. He was warmly welcomed on his PSG debut in August when he came off the bench against Reims in the second half. His first PSG goal was in the Champions League against Manchester City in September, but he didn’t open his account in the French league until November.
Life in the French capital looked bright after Messi won a record seventh Ballon d’Or in November, largely due to his performances at Barcelona and Argentina. PSG fans were happy to bask in the glow.
But after Real Madrid’s elimination from the Champions League in the round of 16 last month, Messi and Neymar were targeted by disgruntled PSG supporters, who were disappointed their team didn’t do better with two of the world’s most expensive footballers. PSG have never won the Champions League.
Messi has one year left on his contract, one more year to fulfill PSG’s dream.
There is no guarantee that French striker Kylian Mbappe will stay with him as his PSG contract expires this summer. But the French league will still have Messi, who is a little slower, but much smarter.
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