After two haywire weeks in Catalonia, Lionel Messi has finally come open about the events that unfolded. The Argentine announced that he would continue at Barcelona for another season, albeit against his will. Still, what does the decision from Messi mean for Barcelona and Ronald Koeman?
It has been a rough couple of weeks for the Barcelona faithful. Frenzied days coupled with sleepless nights, rolling about in the turmoil of the mayhem at the club. Repeated checks into social media and an overload on translator tools to decipher various media leaks were the routine. The confusion at the club divided the fanbase like never before. However, it was all put to bed by one man, and his one interview.
Friday was the day the Lionel Messi finally gave a public statement. He reiterated the fact that his intention to leave was genuine. In what was a rather extraordinary 20-minute interview with Goal, Messi took down the Barcelona board ruthlessly. The same board that turned this faithful son of Catalonia against the club of his life. The pain could be seen in his eyes every time he said the words “I wanted to leave”. Yet, the fact remains that Messi is staying for another year. Not out of his will, but because he had no other option.
“I only want to work with players who want to be here and if they are not happy let them say it”Ronald Koeman, in his presentation as the new Barcelona manager
Messi repeatedly said that, despite the occurrences of the past few weeks, he would continue to fight for the team with the same zeal. Moreover, it would be foolish of one to imagine otherwise. Nonetheless, this season will not the same as his last 20 years at the club. For the first time in his tenure, he feels forced to play against his will. Additionally, he will not have the familiar faces of his friends Arturo Vidal or Luis Suárez around. With so many new faces and a new coach, to what extent will Messi be able to replicate his success?
“I will continue at Barcelona and my attitude will not change, no matter how much I have wanted to leave”Lionel Messi
The Argentine’s decision will undoubtedly come as music to Ronald Koeman‘s ears. The impact of this decision, though, is not just on one player. It threatens to bring about 18colossal changes in the Dutchman’s plans.
Koeman had centred his project around one sole objective: “Rejuvenate from the grassroots”. And through the swift progress in departures of Ivan Rakitić, Suárez and Vidal, he has reasserted his motive. The rich mines of La Masía and the plentiful youth signings seemed to have caught the coach’s eye. Koeman seemed eager to play the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho in their natural positions, bringing the most out of them. The project ahead seemed to have minimum involvement of the heavyweights of the dressing room. With a healthy system of competition planned, selection finally seemed purely merit-based.
Having the world’s best player should ideally never mean a problem. Notwithstanding, having Messi in the dynamics necessitates the building of the entire team around him. The likes of Griezmann and Coutinho can no longer play in their natural positions. Neither Ousmane Dembélé nor Francisco Trincão can hope for a chance to shine on the right-wing. Furthermore, having him in the team may once again bring about that dreaded complacency in the squad. That very dependency on one player that has chewed the club up in recent years. When the one player that everything revolves around himself feels out of place, it cannot be a good sign.
While keeping Messi, Barcelona must think further ahead too | Photo by Filippo Monteforte / AFP via Getty Images
As unbelievable as it sounds, maybe this was the right time for Lionel Messi to step out of the club. Undoubtedly, the history books would not remain kind to him for an exit after arguably his worst season. Still, Barcelona could do with the money. In addition, the gloom after a disastrous season might have been the perfect environment for a rebuild.
There seemed to be no expectations from the next campaign, especially if the best player in the world had left. A year with minimal expectations would have done a world of good for Barcelona to find a novel formula. And for Lionel Messi himself, he could have had a real shot at the Champions League and a glorious swansong under Pep Guardiola.
The club is desperately in search of a new direction. The news of Messi staying another year in music to culés‘ ears. This season will be more about Messi than it has ever been. After all, it could well be his final showing in the blaugrana colours.
With that being said, Koeman must also look in the long term concurrently. Having Messi start every game might put the team in a world of pain next season. Seeing stars slowly being phased out is nothing new to the Barcelona faithful. Just as Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta had incredible final seasons despite not being involved in every minute of the action, Koeman must look to do the same with Messi, whether or not this is the end for him.
Every single Barcelona fan had come dangerously close to accepting the future without the Argentine. What once seemed unfathomable is now the reality. This could, or could not, be the season when Barça and its fans do it all one last time for the man that dedicated his life to the club, whilst parallelly building a team that can compete without him. It is a monstrous task, but it can and will be done. For Messi and for Barcelona.
3 Players Barcelona can sell to ease their financial burden
A debt of €1.173 billion, more than €700 million of which is short term, has sent FC Barcelona down a rabbit hole. The club’s gross mismanagement on both sporting as well as financial levels is no longer a secret. The former board of directors, led by president Josep Maria Bartomeu has consistently spent inordinate amounts of money on ludicrous signings. Most of which have come to bite the club back.
Now, they find themselves in a stickier situation than ever, with an astronomically high wage bill and multiple liabilities to clubs across Europe for signings. In addition, Lionel Messi’s future at Barcelona hangs in the balance. If the club are to conduct any business whatsoever, it will have to begin by offloading a few players.
After Ronald Koeman arrived at the club following the disastrous end to the 2019-20 season, a few key names have already been sold. As the initiation of a rebuilding process, Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal, Nelson Semedo, and Ivan Rakitic were all sold. However, these departures have hardly put a dent in Barcelona’s debt.
That being said, Barça Universal takes a look at three potential sales that might help the club with their finances. Players who may not be key parts of the sporting project long term and whose departures will allow for some breathing room in the wage structure, and allow Barcelona to sign a huge talent such as Kylian Mbappe or Erling Haaland.
It would be a rather disappointing conclusion to what was potentially a wonderful signing. Samuel Umtiti, after signing for Barcelona, was rapidly rising up the ranks as one of the world’s best centre-backs. After his move from Lyon in 2016, he was flying high and quickly displayed why he staked a claim into the Blaugrana’s starting lineup.
But the Frenchman’s fairytale would come to an abrupt halt. After a fantastic second season with Barcelona, Umtiti suffered an injury to his left knee in 2018, just a month before the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The defender risked himself to represent his nation, and it ended up being a positive decision as France lifted the coveted prize with Umtiti as one of the key players. He decided not to have surgery as he felt it would worsen his issues.
Ever since then, despite his initial impressions, the injury woes have persisted and have led to many complications. Recurring issues with his meniscus, followed by foot injuries and many other issues, led to a massive decline in form and physicality. The centre-back was never really able to return to his brilliant best. While coach Ronald Koeman does favour the Frenchman, he is definitely not a consistently reliable presence at the back anymore.
Umtiti’s current deal with Barcelona expires in 2023, and given that he is 27 years old may work in favour of the club. He is not too old, and while he is injury-free, he could fetch Barcelona at least some money. The World Cup winner at his best is a fine player, but given the current circumstances, Barcelona can no longer afford to leave things up to chance.
Philippe Coutinho came to Spain with tremendous promise for the fans, backed up by a huge smile on his face. He was genuinely happy to be where he was. His dream of playing for Barcelona was finally a reality. But that optimism sadly did not last far too long.
The midfielder slowed down tremendously in his first full season with the Catalans. He looked out of sorts and lost in strange and unfamiliar systems. When he arrived in January of 2018 from Liverpool, he became Barcelona’s most expensive signing of all time for over €140 million. After two bad seasons and a loan spell at Bayern Munich, he was finally beginning to show small signs of promise under Ronald Koeman this term.
However, the Brazilian has also been sidelined due to a lengthy injury this season, which has extended into worse news. In addition to that, Liverpool are reportedly one of the clubs that Barcelona still owe money to in variables for Coutinho’s transfer. They will be keen on avoiding any more liabilities. And since Coutinho has obviously not come anywhere close to providing a return on Barcelona’s investment in him, his time at the club may be up.
He is also one of the highest earners in the squad, therefore selling him might be imperative.
The midfielder turned right-back has been a polarising figure in the Barcelona fans’ eyes for quite some time now. The 29-year-old’s current contract with Barcelona is set to run out next year and has a release clause of a massive €500 million. Roberto has made some amazing memories with the club, most prominently, his iconic goal against PSG in 2017’s famous ‘Remontada’.
However, since then he has been more or less showing that he is mostly just a utility player. The Spaniard has been unremarkable in a fair few games and has often made rather costly errors. Over time however, he had certainly become one of the heavyweights in the dressing room, which obviously reflects in his salary. This season, he has been struggling with a thigh injury, which he recovered from but then relapsed.
He was a valuable asset to have in the absence of a full fledged right-back who has the so-called ‘Barcelona DNA’. However, with the arrival of Sergino Dest, parting ways with Roberto makes sense from both sporting and financial perspectives.
While Roberto might not be among the players who have constantly underperformed but selling him might be a logical decision for Barcelona because as a player who can play in multiple positions across the pitch, and is in his theoretical prime, the Spaniard will be in demand. Football today requires for players to adapt in various positions and roles, and we have seen Roberto’s capability with the same.
Additionally, as one of the captains of the team, the La Masia graduate might be able to lease off a more than decent amount of cash. Several top teams in the market, including Juventus, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and PSG, among others, might be vouching for a right-back soon and could look towards Sergi Roberto.
However, there are also more players like Jordi Alba, Junior Firpo and Neto who could be smart sales. Alba has also been declining rapidly but his offensive output has not yet been replaced. Firpo is already linked to a move away to various clubs after failing to impress at Barcelona. In a nutshell, the Blaugrana certainly have options to sell, in order to continue the rebuild effectively. Easing the financial load by selling and eventually making way for more sensible transfers will be vital for this transitioning side.