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When will Lionel Messi retire? Why World Cup 2022 could mark his retirement from international football with Argentina

Sporting News 12/18/2022 Kyle Bonn
© Provided by Sporting News

Lionel Messi is one of the greatest players to ever play the sport of football, something he proved definitively in Argentina's Qatar 2022 final win over France, but now at age 35, the end of the road is not far off for the Argentinian magician.

Fans around the globe took in every second of Messi at the 2022 FIFA World Cup because they know, by his admission, it will be his last. 

The next World Cup in 2026 will see Messi turn 39 years old, and he has already made it clear that is a bridge too far, meaning that Qatar was his last chance to win football's biggest ever prize.

Prior to the tournament starting he'd already confirmed this will be his last global tournament, telling journalist Sebastian Vignolo on his show 'In First Person' on South American streaming service Star+ on October 6: "This will be my last World Cup — for sure."

Some of the greatest players in history didn't play in the world's premier competition beyond their mid-30s: Pele's last World Cup came at age 29 (in 1970) and Diego Maradona's last tournament was in 1994 at age 33. Zinedine Zidane (34) and Brazil's Ronaldo (30) both made their final World Cup bow in 2006. 

So, Qatar 2022 represented the international swansong of one of the game's greatest-ever players. But could he call time on his playing career full stop after the tournament? 

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When will Lionel Messi retire?

Lionel Messi hasn't given any concrete timeline for the end of his career, and he's been quite coy regarding what his plans are beyond the 2022 World Cup and the 2022/23 club season.

However, he has dropped the occasional hint as to his immediate future.

Messi said back in March while on international duty: “I don’t know what I will do after the World Cup. I am thinking about what is coming. After Qatar, I will have to reassess many things.”

That's not much, but his bit about "reassessing many things" could involve his club, as well as his international future. Now that Qatar 2022 is over, the clock is ticking.

Speaking after he got his hands on the World Cup trophy, Messi suggested he's not done with Argentina just yet... although it's unclear if he'll still be involved when the 2026 World Cup comes around.

"I am not retiring from the Argentina national team. I want to continue playing as a champion," he said.

There is speculation that Messi could be targeting one more lucrative contract before the end of his club career, potentially moving to Major League Soccer on a big-money contract to see out his time on the field.

But the latest chatter has focused around a potential return to Barcelona at the conclusion of his stint with PSG in France.

MORE: This goal may be Messi's best in a PSG jersey

Lionel Messi international football retirement

Before Messi hangs up his boots for good, he will likely call time on his international career with an eye toward extending his club career for as long as possible.

And his admission that this will be his last World Cup seems to make that a distinct possibility after Qatar, especially with the way things turned out.

Ahead of the tournament, he told Vignolo: "This will be my last World Cup — for sure. The decision has been made. I am counting down the days to the World Cup. There is a bit of anxiety and nerves at the same time." 

However, his latest comments (as mentioned above) suggest he'll continue playing for Argentina in 2023 at least.

The travel from Europe, where his club team is based, to South America can take its toll, though Messi has been relatively injury-free during this career. 

So, while the outcome of the 2022 World Cup shapes up to be the ideal time for Messi to retire from international duty, it seems he has other ideas. Argentina hoisted the trophy in Qatar, so now Messi could see this time as the right time — even the perfect time — to retire from international competition altogether. But this is Messi, after all.

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Is Lionel Messi declining at 35 years old?

There is not an easy answer to this question, because Messi is evolving his game and having now won the biggest tournament of them all you'd argue not.

He had a rough first year at PSG in the 2021/22 club campaign, with a significant decline in his production. It resulted in his absence from the list of finalists for the 2022 Ballon d'Or, the individual award he captured in 2021.

However, there are many ways to explain the dip in attacking output, and not all of them point to a significant long-term decline. His flashes of skill are still world-class and light up social media feeds around the world.

Messi scored just six goals in 2021/22 in his first year in France's Ligue 1, but he assisted 15 other goals. He had a better scoring rate in the UEFA Champions League with five goals in seven matches, giving him a total of 13 goals scored throughout the club campaign. That's a far cry from the 38 goals he scored for Barcelona the previous season (2020/21).

At PSG, Messi's role is slightly different than at Barcelona. He is no longer the focal point of his club's attack deployed next to world-class goalscorers Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. He has taken on a more creative role, facilitating chances for those two world-class talents.

In fact, Messi's expected assists (xA) per 90 minutes at PSG in 2021/22 was 0.362, slightly higher than his final season at Barcelona.

There's no denying that at 35 years old, Messi may not be producing the volume of goals and assists that he has in the past, but he can still decide a game by himself, as he proved at the 2022 World Cup, give all Argentina what it was asking for from their captain.

MORE: Lionel Messi stats for 2022/23 season with PSG, Argentina

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When does Lionel Messi's contract with PSG expire?

Messi's PSG contract expires at the end of this 2022/23 season, with a reported option for a potential third season in Paris. 

It's unclear how that contract option is triggered, but what's clear is that Messi could be looking for a new club in June 2023.

There are many rumors regarding the possibilities on the table for Messi to pursue, but he and his family have not spoken publicly about them. There are rumors that Messi will be lured to David Beckham's MLS club Inter Miami, but that chatter from early 2022 has quieted since initial publication.

Messi could also decide to re-sign with PSG, especially if he feels the club has the squad to finally capture its long sought-after UEFA Champions League title. It would be a feather in Messi's cap if he could win that trophy with a second club after his multiple triumphs with Barcelona.

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