Lionel Messi, 35, still has the ability to impact games, but age affects even the best, Johan Neeskens said during his recent visit to Mumbai to launch the World Coaches Program. Winner of three successive Champions League titles with Ajax as a player, Neeskens was an assistant coach at Barcelona from 2006 to 2008, Messi’s early years at the Camp Nou. (More Football News)
“He still has the quality to play very well, but when you get older, you are not the same player you were at 25,” Neeskens told Outlook. “You cannot keep running up and down the field. It depends on the coach when and how he wants to use him, make some adaptation in the team.”
Asked what he saw in the young Messi at Barcelona, the twice World Cup finalist for Holland said, “We could already see in his movements, in his technique, in his awareness during practice in a small space, or in a big space, that he had a lot of qualities. And if he has that, we are not afraid to put a 17-year-old boy in there with big stars like Ronaldinho, Deco and (Samuel) Eto’o. He proved he had quality, (because) from the moment he came in the team, he stayed in the team.”
At Barcelona, Neeskens was assistant to another Dutch star, Frank Rijkaard. Rijkaard coached the side to two La Liga and a Champions League title. Handing Messi his debut is an important part of his legacy.
Messi amassed an enormous career at Barcelona, winning 34 trophies, including the La Liga ten times and the Champions League on four occasions. He scored 672 goals, a club record.
For Argentina, Messi led the team to the 2021 Copa America title, answering critics who said that while he was a great player for his club, he had not won a trophy for his country. The World Cup, however, has eluded Messi. Reaching the final in 2014 was the closest he came to the prize. Qatar 2022 is expected to be his one last chance.