Lionel Messi closing in on four records held by Xavi, Ryan Giggs and Pele in 17th Barcelona season

LIONEL MESSI is closing in on ANOTHER four records ahead of his 17th season at Barcelona.

During the summer, it looked like the Argentine had played his last game for the club but he is expected to start against Villarreal when their LaLiga campaign begins on Sunday.

In anticipation of his somewhat surprising re-emergence, Barcelona-based newspaper Sport placed four huge records Messi is chasing on their front page on Wednesday.

The first is, on the face of it, the simplest – but it was also in huge jeopardy earlier in the year.

In turning out for the Blaugrana in 2020/21, the 33-year-old will enter his 17th season at the club.

Only Xavi Hernandez and Carles Rexach have achieved the same feat, making Messi the first non-Spaniard to do so.

Rexach, 73, only won LaLiga once between 1964 and 1981 while Al-Sadd boss Xavi, 40, collected a whopping 25 honours before leaving in 2015.

Messi joining the duo on 17 seasons is arguably only coming about because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Having become disillusioned by the way the club was being run, he attempted to enact an exit clause in his contract.

Officially, the clause expired in June and, with Barcelona's season coming to a close with an 8-2 hammering against Bayern Munich on August 14, he had no way out.

Manchester City and Inter Milan circled but the Catalans' insistence on Messi's full £631million release clause being met made it very simple for the forward.

Either go to court or stay put, with just one year left on his contract.

He explained in an interview with Goal: "They cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10.

"When it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for LaLiga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season.

"And this is the reason why I am going to continue in the club.

"Now I am going to continue in the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the €700million (£623m) clause, and that this is impossible."

Messi sticking around means another Barcelona record is coming into his sights.

Already the club's all-time top goalscorer in LaLiga, the Champions League and El Clasico, as well as their assist leader and most decorated player, he can soon break their appearance record too.

Xavi holds the title thanks to his 767 outings for the Spanish giants.

Messi is only 36 behind, on 731, and will surely take the honour if he remains fit for the majority of the season.

Amazingly, the striker is not Barcelona's all-time Copa del Rey top scorer and is some way off being so.

With 53 goals in the cup competition, he requires another 13 to surpass Josep Samitier and his 65 strikes between 1919 and 1932.

ONE CLUB MEN

Messi does not hold world football's record for winning trophies, nor for claiming titles with the same club.

Instead, Ryan Giggs stands ahead of the Barcelona icon with 36 winners' medals – all collected with Manchester United.

Two behind is Messi and his 34, having failed to lift any silverware in 2019/20.

One record he seems certain to break is the most goals for the same club.

A rival for the title of football's all-time greatest player current stands higher than Messi.

Pele bagged 643 goals for Santos, although his official tally has long been subject to some debate.

Messi, meanwhile, carries a tally of 634 going into the new campaign, setting him up for yet another prestigious achievement.

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