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A game of chess: Bartomeu vs Messi

Javier Giorgetti

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Header Image by Josep Lago / AFP via Getty Images

At this moment, all the information we search for about FC Barcelona is related to two individuals: Lionel Messi and Josep Maria Bartomeu. The captain and the president, two pillars in the matter of the hierarchies of the club, but that right now are in a delicate strategic battle which could result in a game over if someone makes a bad move.


Every hour that passes there is new information about the Lionel Messi saga and the entire blaugrana entity is anxious about the fate of the Argentine star. To put the situation into context, reliable reports have emerged in recent days assuring that Messi no longer trusts the board’s plans as they do not have a winning project, obviously also influenced by the team’s results in recent years and following an embarrassing 2–8 loss against Bayern Munich. As a result, with Josep Maria Bartomeu being the main person in charge of the club’s current project, a delicate atmosphere has been generated between the captain and president of Barça.

To understand the situation more fully, we must go back to when Sandro Rosell won the elections to be president of the club in 2010, being on the same side of the coin as Bartomeu. These board members, supported by the media and the Grupo Godó that manages local newspaper Mundo Deportivo, have tried to destroy any symbol of the so-called Cruyffism that has existed in the institution.

Since the arrival of Sandro Rosell, and later Bartomeu in 2015, they have received rejections from Barça legends such as Johan Cruyff, Carles Puyol, Pep Guardiola, Dani Alves and Xavi Hernández, among others. Yet there was a player who seemed impossible for Bartomeu to earn the rejection of: Lionel Messi. However, it seems like it was not enough to be rejected by the best coach in the world or the most prominent ideology in history, but they also made the best player ever want to leave the club.

After such big names in Barça’s history turned their back to the current board, Messi’s departure is putting the entire culé community against Bartomeu. Messi is the untouchable figure of the institution and if he wants to go, it can only be because the board has crossed a limit. To escape from such critiques, though, from now on the Barcelona president will do everything possible to once again get away with it, as he has done without showing his face and blaming Luis Enrique, Ernesto Valverde, Quique Setién or the many board members he has fired or have left the club.

Nonetheless, it will not be an easy task to win a battle against a figure that goes beyond this sport like Lionel Messi. Thus, Bartomeu, clever only for his own interest, has continued with a very calculative and elaborated strategy by telling local journalists the following: if Messi publicly expresses that he will stay if Bartomeu resigns, then Bartomeu will resign in order to make Messi stay.

This chess move would make Bartomeu be seen as the victim of this whole situation if Leo ended up leaving the club, but also as the hero if Messi stayed. At present, if Messi publicly expresses that he wants Bartomeu out of the club, Bartomeu will resign and Messi will stay, but then Bartomeu would have his image cleansed by being the man who sacrificed himself so that the best player in history could stay.

Josep Maria Bartomeu Lionel Messi Barcelona

Fans outside the Camp Nou asking for Bartomeu’s resignation | Photo by Pau Barrena / AFP via Getty Images

Moreover, what this would do is to confirm to the media that Messi is a kind of dictator in Barcelona, making it look like he commands the club and that he can do whatever he wants, something that would undoubtedly stain the image of the Argentine in an abysmal way. In the same way, what Messi hates and dislikes as nothing else would happen: the world believing that he is the true dictator of the team. In some ways, La Pulga has his hands tied in an uncomfortable situation for him.

On the other hand, if Messi completely ignores Bartomeu’s message, he would leave the club as the player who was not able to change Barça’s course when he had that power to do so, and Bartomeu would end up looking like the victim who did everything possible to retain the number 10. In any situation, Bartomeu wins and Messi loses to the local and national media, with the big newspapers all supporting Bartomeu.

Furthermore, if Messi publicly demands for Bartomeu to resign, nothing will really change. The board will be on the same side, with a new president but from the same board. In other words, Bartomeu would continue to have power without being president, making the decisions behind the scenes. In theory, there would be no elections until March, as planned, and Barça would not have a new board until 2021. That is why it is difficult for Messi to accept that move, but in the same way, he could not accept not making it.

Messi is not a person that makes bad decisions. If he wants to leave the club it is because he has already thought about it for a long time, so his decision may be irrevocable. Notwithstanding, the Argentine will have to make a move if he wants to leave Catalonia, because if he does in this situation, Bartomeu will still win. The ball is in Messi’s court to make his next smart step in this complex and sensitive game of chess.

The love I feel for this club is as great as the desire to share my admiration for it. Being a fan of Barcelona since when I was 8 years old and growing up watching games week after week. It makes no sense to feel so much love for this club. Being able to transmit all that love with more lovers of this sport is priceless.

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How should Barcelona line-up against Ferencvarosi?

Adithya Eshwarla

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Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP

“Sometimes, you have to get knocked down lower than you have ever been to stand back up taller than you ever were”

Come Tuesday night, Barcelona step into a Champions League clash for the first time since the debacle that annihilated them. That performance, that humiliation, that shattered confidence undoubtedly still runs feebly across the back of every Blaugrana player’s conscience.

The mighty Barcelona that once dominated the world had yet again fallen, not just meekly, but shamefully in a knockout match. The chokers tag that intimidated them before the game came back for another bite of flesh. Without a speck of doubt, it was rock bottom.

Barcelona must forget the distant disastrous memories of Lisbon. (Photo by MANU FERNANDEZ/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

However, life is always full of second chances. Football is a game synonymous with redemption. Every new season harbours with it a chance to fix things right—the opportunity to stand up once again and climb higher than you ever were. And Barcelona hope that Tuesday will be the start of a special run, one that begins right at the Camp Nou.

The opening clash features the Catalan giants take on the Hungarian champions Ferencváros. The Hungarians are unbeaten in the league so far, with four wins and a draw to their name. Ferencvaros have netted 12 times in their opening five encounters, having conceded just the three. And on the blue corner, we have Barcelona, who are coming off the back of their first defeat of the season. The Catalans have dropped points in their last two clashes and will be raring to make amends.

What to expect from Ferencvarosi?

After failing to qualify for the Europa League in 2018, Ferencvarosi announced the sacking of their manager. The club named Serhiy Rebrov the new man at the helm soon after, and a new era began. This followed a failure to win the domestic league for two years, Rebrov led the side to the title in his first season.

Things just got better for the Budapest outfit as they went on to defend their title in 2019-20 too. However, the biggest achievement for Serhiy was undoubtedly the Champions League qualification. It was a gruelling run, with tough sides including Celtic and Dinamo Zagreb challenging them for a spot. In the end, a fascinating two-legged tie against Molde saw Ferencvaros secure a spot in the UCL after 25 years.

Rebrov has done a fantastic job with his team in the recent past. (Photo by NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images)

Rebrov has preferentially stuck to a 4-2-3-1 during league games. However, they have moulded at times to a 4-3-3 during UCL clashes. Surprisingly, the team does not have too much wing play, something well associated with a 4-2-3-1. That said, while they can be lethal on the counter, they prefer to hold possession.

The buildup is usually central, with long balls being an ace up their sleeve. Of the two wings, the left is usually the more exciting one. They are not a side that likes to terrorize the opposition, rather preferring a conservative approach repeatedly. This is evident in their statistics from the Europa League, with under a goal averaged per game. The conversion rate, too, has not been as fierce as they would have hoped, but what matters is that they always get something over the line.

Tokmac Chol Nguen has been a menacing weapon for Rebrov on the left-wing. Though he does prefer to drift inside and operate in the halfspaces, his connection with midfielder Somalia and the fullbacks opens up activity on the flank. The Norwegian has already racked up four goals in as many starts in the League. Franck Boli is the manager’s second trump card in the attack. The full-backs are not extensively involved in the drives and tend to stay rather deep.

How should Barcelona line-up?

If there is one thing the Champions League has taught us over the years, it is never to take the opposition lightly. Every season brings with it new upsets. Teams from lesser-known leagues may not have the popularity or fame, but what they do have in abundance are confidence and determination. Heading into the clash as the underdogs helps them unlock a new stratum of freedom. Though Ronald Koeman’s focus will primarily be on the El Clasico and the mega-challenge against Juventus, he cannot afford to take Ferencvaros for granted.

Undoubtedly Koeman will require the right balance of prophylaxis and caution. Rotations will be undoubtedly necessary, however, not blown out of proportion. With the Clasico lurking just around the corner, this could be the best chance to rest Lionel Messi. Given that Antoine Griezmann is visibly low on confidence, Martin Braithwaite may be the ideal option as the #9. His work rate will be crucial to implement Koeman’s high press.

Ousmane Dembele should be provided with another run in the park on the left-wing; not only will it help him gain match fitness, it will help keep Fati fresh for the weekend. Fransisco Trincāo could earn his first start of the season on the right-wing, adding dynamism to the wider areas.

Given that Ferencvaros are overloaded in the centre, going wide seems to be the right way forward. After an impressive showing against Getafe, Pedri could well earn his second start of the campaign. His role in the centre will be crucial if Messi is rested, as he will be in the limelight for providing the creative spark.

The dying moments of the last game witnessed Koeman field a team with a single pivot for the first time. However, the Dutchman will be looking to stick to his basics with a double pivot. After not featuring against Getafe, Miralem Pjanic could be his first start in the famous garnet-and-blue. Alongside him will undoubtedly be Frenkie de Jong who still quite hasn’t set the season on fire, but has shown promising signs. The duo will be crucial to cut off the likes of Boli and Nguen from the midfield.

Since playing wide is the way to go, the fullbacks will be crucial to extract maximum productivity of the wings. Given the dire shortage of options, one would expect Sergi Roberto and Sergino Dest to hold onto their starting roles. Dest put up a particularly impressive display on Saturday despite being played out of position. He will certainly get a deserved start at left-back once again, this time in the Champions League.

Tomorrow might be the best time to rest Messi and Pique. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Much like Lionel Messi, this might be the best time for Koeman to give Gerard Pique some breathing space. With a congested schedule ahead, Araujo could replace him in the line-up alongside Clement Lenglet. The Uruguayan has proved to be reliable, and could well get Koeman’s nod to start. In between the sticks, Neto continues to impress with every passing game and will be looking forward to his first Champions League start of the season.

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