Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu believes Lionel Messi will retire at the Camp Nou a one-club player and added that the forward might not hang up his boots until the age of 45.
Messi—who turns 32 in June—scored a decisive brace against Liverpool on Wednesday to give the Blaugrana a 3-0 cushion before their UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg at Anfield on Tuesday.
The question at the Camp Nou is how long he will stick around to perform these kinds of feats, but Bartomeu told the Guardian's Sid Lowe Messi will be at Barca until his last game, which won't be anytime soon:
"You enjoy watching him. And you wonder what will happen when Leo retires from football.
"He might even play until he's 45, who knows? We know he'll play three, four, five years more, we don't know how many – as many as he wants. We're preparing: players like [Ousmane] Dembele, [Clement] Lenglet, Arthur are there to build a team for when Messi stops playing, but I still see it as a long way off. I don't think that day is near. And we tell the players who play and train with him: ‘Make the most of every minute.'"
Messi played youth football for Newell's Old Boys, his local club in Rosario, Argentina, but he and his family moved to Catalonia when he was 13. The Blaugrana are the only senior club he's represented in his career.
"We are talking to the family but it's very early to say. He's a footballer. So we talk football. But he will stay here with us. He's a club man. I talk always about Pele, who was always associated with Santos, the only place he played. Leo belongs to world football, but he has always lived at Barca. He will be a one-club man. Leo will never leave. He'll stop playing, but he'll always be with us."
The forward's second goal against the Reds was his 600th strike for the club, a long-range free-kick that's almost sure to seal Barca a spot in this season's Champions League final (U.S. only):
It would require one of the greatest comebacks in European football history for Jurgen Klopp to lead his Liverpool team back to the Champions League decider for a second year in succession. Barcelona, meanwhile, are chasing a treble, having already confirmed back-to-back La Liga title wins.
Messi's first goal on Wednesday was a tap-in after former Reds striker Luis Suarez hit the crossbar, and it was the former's second-half escalation of his performance level that forced Barcelona into a commanding lead (U.S. only):
They could face either Tottenham Hotspur or Ajax at the Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid if they advance—the north Londoners lost 1-0 at home to the Dutch giants in their opening leg on Tuesday.
The prospect of facing Messi under such circumstances is a dreaded thought for any manager, and Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino referred to his compatriot as a unique talent, as Goal shared:
Bayern Munich manager Niko Kovac joined in the chorus of senior football figures singing Messi's praises after his 600th Barcelona goal, courtesy of Omnisport:
Bartomeu went on to describe Barca's most prized player as a genius who "sets you apart from other teams," with his history at the Camp Nou meaning he's "just part of the club" and that his exploits have become somewhat normalised.
There's no threat of Messi leaving to join another club as far as those leading Barcelona are concerned, and his loyalty could continue to propel the club to success for years to come.