Time has no mercy, and football is no exception to this rule. There is a moment in every player's career when speed, pace and stamina start to disappear. Only a select few find a way of following Charles Darwin's famous quote: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change".
It will not surprise anyone that Lionel Messi is likely to be among this minority, though he only turns 29 in June and remains at the peak of his powers. Messi is walking in the footsteps of the great Andrea Pirlo, who said: "It's called an assist – it is my way of spreading happiness."
The Argentina international has astounded onlookers this season. Despite suffering a knee injury in the opening stages of Barcelona's La Liga match against Las Palmas in September, he has come back stronger than ever. With his killer instinct intact, he is displaying a generosity of spirit that is improving and inspiring his attacking partners Luis Suárez and Neymar.
The La Liga thumping of Getafe saw each of the trio reach 20 league goals for the season – just the second time each member of an attacking group has reached the landmark in Spanish top-flight football. Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuaín and Karim Benzema mirrored the feat in the 2011/12 campaign. In addition, Messi became the first player in Spain to score at least 20 goals in eight consecutive seasons.
Back to the topic of Messi's passing skills, he eclipsed another personal record during the thrashing of Getafe. Almost in recognition of where his career may take him – into a deeper position – Messi sees providing goals for his teammates as important as adding to his own tally . Against Getafe he achieved his first ever hat-trick of assists (two for Neymar and one for Munir El Haddidi).
With 19 assists in 35 games he lays on a goal for his teammate at an average of better than one every other game [0.56]. While some of Ronaldo's teammates at Real Madrid are occasionally nullified by his obsession with individual awards, Messi has proven since last season that his role during Luis Enrique's tenure has given him more chances to assist and, at the same time, improve his fellow first-teamers. No player has contributed more assists in a single La Liga season than the 12 Messi managed last term (he already has 10 in the Spanish top flight this season), beating Luis Figo's record.
Pedro Rodriguez, Samuel Eto'o, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas are among the chief beneficiaries of Messi's vision over the years at Barcelona. Given how each of these players has struggled to recapture their goalscoring form since leaving the Catalan giants, it provides a decent insight into the significance of the diminutive Argentine. "I prefer to win titles with the team ahead of individual awards or scoring more goals than anyone else," he once said, according to The Daily Mail.
However, the records do not stop there for the five-time Ballon d'Or winner – and there remains room for improvement. Messi missed his eighth La Liga penalty against Getafe and has now failed from the spot more times than any Barcelona player. It is a rare blotch on Messi's copybook at Barca, who have missed half of their 16 spot kicks this term. Should the successful retaining of the Champions League come down to a penalty shoot-out, Messi's season could suddenly turn into a nightmare.