Carles Puyol has stated that Lionel Messi is capable of playing at the highest level for another ‘three or four years’.
Messi, who surpassed Pele’s record of goals for one club when he scored his 644th goal for Barcelona against Valladolid on Tuesday, has enjoyed phenomenal success during his career at Camp Nou.
The Argentina international has won La Liga 10 times, the Copa del Rey six times and been part of four Champions League-winning squads. On an individual level, his accolades include winning the Ballon d’Or on six occasions and being La Liga’s top scorer in seven different seasons.
Though his future at Barcelona is currently uncertain, with his contract due to expire at the end of the season, Messi has been backed to continue setting the standards at the top of the game.
“He is now 33 years old and takes care of himself,” Puyol told Goal, speaking as part of Budweiser’s celebration of Messi’s record breaking 644th goal for Barcelona, crowning him the undisputed King of Football.
“He is motivated and eager, and I think he has three or four years to go at this level if he is lucky enough to not have any major injuries and if he continues playing with the same desire to improve and keep winning, with that motivation.
“I think we still have Leo for a while.”
Reflecting on what has allowed Messi to keep performing at such a high level for the best part of 15 years, Puyol said: “I am sure that talent is not enough.
“Talent is needed, of course, but also work and dedication, a desire to learn and be motivated to seek new challenges every day. We have seen it in Messi.
“He is not the same player today as he was when he started. He has been adding records and improving, he is a very complete player who can set the rhythm of the game, score free kicks, goals, give assists. He does practically everything!
“In the beginning he was very good, but one of those players who you give the ball and he does his individual move. He made the difference and scored goals.
“He was already very good [at a young age], but over the years he has become an even more impressive player, the best of all time.”
Puyol was in the Barcelona team when Messi made his first-team debut in La Liga as a substitute against Espanyol in October 2004 and the former defender recalled his early impressions of the attacker after he came through La Masia.
“I knew he was a very good player,” said Puyol, who retired in 2014. “I was lucky enough to come up from the academy and you are always aware of the players who come up so you can try to help them as they did with me in my day.
“When he arrived he showed that he was a very good player, but not even those who trusted him the most could have imagined what he has become.
“From the first day, he showed his quality with humility and his way of doing things. He would pick up the ball and go towards goal, he did not care who was in front of him. He always did everything with great respect and humility.”
When asked if he thought Messi was going to be the ‘best of the best’, Puyol replied: “You quickly realised that he is a different player, that he makes a difference and that he can win a game by himself, but as the years go by, and you see that he continues to improve and add records in his game, well, he ends up where he is today.
“For me, he is the best player in history. He has shown it for many years and that is not easy.
“I don’t know how many years he has already been at this level, maybe 13 or 14, and that is very difficult to do.”