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Analysis

Lionel Messi turns 33: A different birthday

In the 33rd birthday of Lionel Messi, is it time to plan for the future despite the nostalgia of the past and brilliance of the present?

Javier Giorgetti

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Header Image by Eric Alonso via Getty Images

Lionel Messi turns 33 years old today, in a different birthday as it is the first time that he is celebrating this special date at a club level with FC Barcelona. Every year that passes we continue to see the same genius of Messi. But why is this birthday crucial?


There is no doubt that Lionel Messi’s talent is unique. In the entire history of football, we have never seen someone as remarkable and extraordinary as the Argentine. In previous years, though, Leo had been spending his birthday on vacation or with his national team. Atypically, this 24 June will be different for him. After the pandemic, drastic measures were taken for the return of La Liga, making Messi spend his birthday for the first time at FC Barcelona and competing for the league.

Moreover, La Pulga is already 33 years old, an age in which the date to hang up his boots is slowly, and sadly, approaching. But what does this mean for the number 10 of Barça?

Lionel Messi since his 32nd birthday

Messi turned 32 on 24 June 2019. Right after having been crowned champion of La Liga, but also after having suffered a painful defeat in the final of the Copa del Rey and the tragedy at Liverpool’s Anfield in the Champions League semi-finals. Similarly, he was competing with Argentina in the Copa América, in which they were knocked out in the semis by Brazil. Even so, having completed his first season as the captain of FC Barcelona, Messi was prepared to think about the approaching future: the 2019/20 season.

If we go back in time, we would never have imagined that this campaign would be such a strange one for the world, for football, for Barça, and, of course, for Lionel Messi. Unfortunately, Messi‘s season did not start in the best way. With a foot injury, the little genius had to be away from the pitch for around 40 days, making him miss four La Liga games.

Lionel Messi Ballon d'Or Barcelona birthday

Lionel Messi continues to perform at unmatched standards | Photo by Imago

After Barça’s inconsistent start in La Liga, with a record of two wins, one loss, and one draw, Leo couldn’t wait anymore to be back and support his team, forcing his return despite not being fully recovered. This is how Messi made his debut this term against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. But something was clearly wrong. His goalscoring record was poorer compared to previous years. The games passed, though, and little by little the Argentine started recovering his best level. At last, he was already scoring regularly again.

Some time later, in January, and following the blaugranas‘ poor results, coach Ernesto Valverde was sacked and was replaced by Quique Setién. One more obstacle for Messi, who had to adapt to a new manager in midseason. At the end of Valverde’s era and start of Setién’s reign, the captain looked very fatigued. He wasn’t explosive and wasn’t as effective in front of goal. Partly because of the injury from the early months of competition, and perhaps because of age. The reality is that Messi was not the same. He needed rest, but could not get it due to the injuries of his teammates in attack.

A birthday competing for La Liga

Regrettably, some time later, the world of football was paralysed by the COVID–19. But, like all bad news, there are always some positives that can be taken. Regarding Barcelona, Lionel Messi had three months in which he could get rest and recover his fitness. Something which he desperately needed and that only this pandemic could give him. Finally, the real Messi could be seen, since he had been performing at a strange level for the majority of the 2019/20 season.

The first two games since the return of La Liga were fantastic for the Argentine. Two goals and two assists. Nevertheless, due to the new dense schedule in which the players have less rest, Messi has looked tired against Sevilla and Athletic Club. Furthermore, competition against Real Madrid for the top spot has forced Leo to play the full 90 minutes in all these four clashes. Undoubtedly, a different birthday than what the Barça legend had in mind.

Is it time to think about retirement?

The average age at which an elite footballer retires, or leaves the high-caliber football to play in less demanding leagues, is 35. Legends of Barcelona have hung up their boots in recent years and, of the golden generation that conquered the world a decade earlier, only Lionel Messi, Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets remain. Based on age, the number 10 is the next in line, along with Piqué. But how many years does Messi have left playing in a team like Barcelona?

Captain Carles Puyol retired at the age of 36, following a couple of seasons full of physical problems. Midfielder Xavi Hernández left the club at 35, magician Andrés Iniesta at 34 and tenacious defender Javier Mascherano at 33, all of them to play football at a less demanding level in a different continent. But what about Messi? Will he reach 34, as Iniesta, will he wait until Puyol’s 36, or will he face an atypical situation like that of one club man Francesco Totti with Roma, who retired at 40 years of age?

Lionel Messi Barcelona birthday

When will it be Messi’s turn to retire? A question no one wants to hear, but that Barcelona must ask themselves in order to plan the future better | Photo by Xavier Bonilla via Imago

Looking at his level, and putting it in a context of normal competition, there are still many good years left for Messi. Maybe until the age of 36, then retiring at 38, or, being optimistic, waiting until his 40s. Messi is a special and unique player in his existence. When it looks like he has done it all, he offers things that are not normal for his age. So there could still be many more years ahead of a brilliant Messi. Of course, injuries have to respect him, and maybe he will not play his last years at the level that we know him for. But he will continue to be the best of the best for a long time.

What does it mean that Messi turns 33?

As Leo turns 33, it means that Barça still have the best Messi, but that the club has to start preparing for when he is no longer there too. Building a project to ease the pain when the Argentine is gone. Of course, his departure will negatively affect many aspects, but it would not affect them as much if there was a solid project behind.

Is also implies that Barcelona have to advantage of the best Messi in these next three, four, five years to win great titles before he exits. It means that he can still lift important individual trophies and be crucial in matches. It means that there is still time to enjoy him and see him perform at his 100% in the most critical encounters. This birthday means that we have to be grateful to Lionel Messi, because the inevitable end is getting closer.

“I look at Messi, and he makes me laugh. A beautiful footballer who is still like a kid. A world superstar, but still a kid. Innocent, you know. He just plays”

Johan Cruyff

For now, let’s enjoy the unparalleled magnificence of Lionel Messi. Let’s pray that he can win as many titles as possible with Barcelona in the following years. Let’s hope that great football continues to be witnessed with him on the pitch. And, above all, let’s keep turning on the TV to watch Messi as if it was the first time that we saw the Rosario-born kid play. More than 15 years have passed and some things never change.

Happy birthday, Messi!


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The love I feel for this club is as great as the desire to share my admiration for it. Being a fan of Barcelona since when I was 8 years old and growing up watching games week after week. It makes no sense to feel so much love for this club. Being able to transmit all that love with more lovers of this sport is priceless.

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Analysis

Using Machine Learning to predict Barcelona’s 2021/22 league season

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Photo via Imago

Johan Cruyff famously said, “I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.” It is indisputable that money is not the only deciding factor behind a football club’s success. Time and time again, we have seen that football is chaotic and absurd. Anything can happen.

That being said, it is evident that statistically, the clubs with more money are usually the more successful ones. While one cannot predict the unpredictability that is engraved within football, an outcome that is statistically probable can be predicted. This article will explore the relationship between the points a club accumulates in a league season and the total value of the club’s squad. Then, Python will be used to build a linear regression model in order to predict the number of points Barcelona will obtain in the 21/22 season based on the club’s hypothetical squad.

Let us begin with visualizing the relationship between the total league points obtained by a club and the club’s total squad value. Since the amount of money spent on transfers has increased tremendously over the course of the last decade, in this article, only seasons 2014/15 – 2019/20 will be considered. Upon plotting the total points against the total squad value, it is evident that there is a positive correlation between the two. Granted, the correlation is not extremely strong, but it exists nonetheless.

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A line of regression has been generated. The line’s gradient is approximately 0.05138986, and its y-intercept is approximately 44.5470726. There is only one dependant variable in question, club value/total value of squad, and so our line of regression can be modelled by the equation:

P = (0.05138986 )V + 44.5470726 where P is the points and V is the total squad value.


club_values = np.array(df['Values']).reshape(89,1)
club_points = np.array(df['Point']).reshape(89,1)

from sklearn.linear_model import LinearRegression
linear_model = LinearRegression()
linear_model.fit(club_values,club_points)

In order to predict the points accumulated based on Barcelona’s squad value next season, the squad value won’t directly be inputted into our equation above. The coefficient and the y-intercept have been rounded up after a certain number of decimal places, and so, to preserve the precision of the prediction, Python’s LinearRegression predict method will be utilized.

Now comes another challenging part of coming up with Barcelona’s hypothetical squad next season. Based on reports, it can be assumed that Samuel Umtiti, Miralem Pjanic, Martin Braithwaite and Phillipe Coutinho will be some of the notable players to leave. To compensate for the outgoing players, it can be assumed that Barcelona will sign Eric Garcia, David Alaba, Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay. Here is a table that contains all the players in Barcelona’s hypothetical 21/22 squad and their corresponding market values:

PLAYER NAME MARKET VALUE (MILLION POUNDS)
MARC ANDRE TER STEGEN79.34
ARNAU TENAS1.59
RONALD ARAUJO26.45
CLEMENT LENGLET26.45
GERARD PIQUE12.70
DAVID ALABA58.19
ERIC GARCIA21.16
OSCAR MINGUENZA10.58
JORDI ALBA26.45
JUNIOR FIRPO10.58
SERGINO DEST26.45
SERGI ROBERTO26.45
SERGIO BUSQUETS10.58
FRENKIE DE JONG84.63
RIQUI PUIG19.04
ILAIX MORIBA10.58
PEDRI GONZALEZ74.06
GEORGINIO WIJNALDUM37.03
ANSU FATI84.63
KONRAD DE LA FUENTE2.64
OUSMANE DEMBELE52.90
TRINCAO26.45
MEMPHIS DEPAY47.61
ANTOINE GRIEZMANN54.00
LIONEL MESSI84.63
Figures via Transfermarkt

The club’s total value comes up to be £786.60 million. It is important to note that a player’s value is volatile. Transfermarkt updates player values every few months, and so it is extremely probable that this squad’s market value will be drastically different next season.

It is also important to understand that Transfermarkt’s market values are not official and so they are not always an accurate representation of a player’s true market value. Moreover, a player’s value is not always an accurate representation of their quality. Age is a key factor in determining market value, and so while a young player might have a high market value indicating that they are a bright prospect for the future, they might not necessarily be an excellent player at the time when the value is assigned.

Now that all of this has been established, the only thing left is making the prediction.

The machine learning model predicts that Barcelona will obtain 85 points in the 21/22 La Liga season. In the 19/20 season, Real Madrid won the league with 87 points, and in the 18/19 season, Barcelona won the league with 87 points as well. The difference between the points accumulated by the last two winning La Liga squads and the predicted points that Barcelona’s 21/22 squad will obtain is a mere 2 points. This shows that it is possible for Barcelona to win the league next season.

Since the correlation between the two variables, as observed from the data from the last 6 seasons, is not even close to being extremely strong, Barcelona’s 21/22 league points tally may be drastically different from what was predicted by the machine learning model. However, at the end of the day, the model can only work with the data it is exposed to.

Erling Haaland can change the course of Barcelona’s season. It would take forever to make predictions based on Barcelona’s hypothetical squads that include all of the club’s potential transfer targets, however, due to Haaland’s influence, an exception can be made for him. Laporta’s interest in signing Haaland has been widely reported.

However, he will cost a fortune this summer, and with Barcelona’s debt situation, it is unlikely that the Catalan club will pursue him in the upcoming transfer window. That being said like mentioned previously in the article, football is chaotic, and anything can happen.

Oh, Haaland. Oh, you. (Photo via Imago)

Assuming that Barcelona does end up signing Haaland in the summer, Antoine Griezmann will most definitely have to leave (due to wages and the money that can be generated from his sale). Haaland’s current value is £99 million, and so Barcelona’s total squad value for next season, after being corrected for Griezmann’s exit and Haaland’s arrival is £831.60 million.

Haaland’s addition can put 21/22 Barcelona on level with the previous two Spanish champions in terms of total points won. The difference in points between a squad containing Haaland and one not containing him is only two. However, an argument about whether signing Haaland is worth it, is not in the scope of this article.

“Transition seasons do not exist at Barcelona.”

Joan Laporta | Presidential campaign

A club of Barcelona’s stature will always compete for titles. The machine learning model shows that Barcelona is in contention for the 2021/22 La Liga title. Ronald Koeman has done a splendid job at the Blaugrana club this season, and there is no logical reason for him to not do an even better job next season after getting fresh players in the summer.

While football at its core is unpredictable, statistically, it would not hurt to trust Barcelona to win the 2021/22 La Liga title.

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