When Lionel Messi celebrated his 31st birthday last summer, many were quick to remind their peers to savour his talent while we can.
Logically, we’d expect a decline to prelude the Barcelona No10’s retirement.
Unfortunately for defenders everywhere, Messi has never ventured into the realm of logic.
As implausible as it seems, the diminutive genius is statistically at the peak of his career right now.
It’s difficult to brush over the fact scoring a goal or providing an assist measures up as a below average performance by Messi’s standards over the last decade, but put the numbers under the microscope.
After scoring his 50th career hat-trick against Sevilla on Saturday, his season tally stands at 33 goals and 16 assists from 31 games in all competitions.
1.58 goals/assists per game puts him level with his previous best return over the course of a season.
In 2011/12, Messi scored 73 goals in all competitions. Seventy. Three. He also provided 29 assists.
Previously, we considered 2011-2013 as his personal peak.
It’s nothing short of astonishing that 31-year-old Messi is currently operating at a similar level to those years, statistically at least.
Plenty of top-level players have extended their peak years into their thirties, including Cristiano Ronaldo.
But few have sustained over half a season of form that actually creates a new peak in terms of statistical performance.
The main reason for this extraordinary ‘renaissance’ is his emergence as the best playmaker in the world.
At some point around 2014/15, his passing reached the level of his dribbling and finishing.
This season more than ever, he has utilised his vision to unlock defences, rather than his dexterous feet.
His stats reflect this — Messi is averaging more assists per 90 minutes this season than at any point in his career.
While many would have anticipated such a shift, few would have predicted his goal return wouldn’t suffer as a result of becoming a more prolific playmaker.
Only in 2012/13 did Messi average more non-penalty goals per 90 minutes than his current rate.
The stats paint a cartoonish image, of Messi playing a throughball into the path of himself before chipping the keeper.
He operates on a surreal plain, often giving the Nou Camp mirage-like qualities.
Messi has to be seen to be believed, but it’s still far from easy first-hand.
We mustn’t criticise those who have become numb to his brilliance too harshly.
It is natural for excitement to wither about a phenomenon that has been present for over a decade.
But this latest mutation, and the age-defying nonpareil it has produced, deserves suitable recognition.