In normal circumstances, winning the Supercopa de España would be considered a side hustle; a trophy that’s definitely worth getting your hands on but in no way, shape or form does it represent a big milestone in the season. This year, however, was very much a different story.
Winning the Supercopa would have probably been the only way for Ronald Koeman’s team to claim some silverware in 2020/21, and failing to do so could mean they might go trophyless once more. For a club of their stature, needless to say, this is a big thing.
But what’s even more significant is that it could be their first time since 2003/04 that they go multiple seasons without lifting a single trophy at the very end of the campaign. This, above all, signals the crisis has well and truly arrived in Catalonia.
However, not even that is the scariest thing to arrive in 2021. Essentially every football fan on the planet knows Lionel Messi’s contract is set to expire this coming summer and the Barça faithful are dreading June’s approach.
Is this truly it? Is Leo finally going to cut his ties with the club of his life and move on to (presumably) greener pastures of the French capital or to the rainy cities of England? That remains to be seen, but following that big defeat at the hands of Athletic Club in the Supercopa final, most people’s answer is sort of leaning towards ‘yes‘ more so than ‘no‘.
After all, how can we expect Messi to stay in a team as dysfunctional as Barcelona are at the moment? Of course, the other side of the coin is equally viable – what does that say about him as a captain if he plainly jumps ship as soon as it starts sinking?
This discussion will not reach its conclusion any time soon, but people seem to be forgetting – or purposefully refusing to accept – the fact that Messi truly believes the club needs him to move on more than he needs to move on himself.
It’s not really Leo running away from a challenge. When have you seen him do that? We’re talking here about a man who would play even with a broken leg if it meant Barcelona would get an advantage. Allow us to rephrase – this is a man that has already played with a broken arm for the club he loves. He has literally bled for the crest only to bag goals at the end of the day to secure the all-important win the Azulgranas needed.
All he’s ever wanted was what’s best for Barcelona, not what’s best for him. Yes, those two usually go hand in hand and achieving one usually means achieving them both. Why are we then refusing to believe Messi truly believes the club would be better off without him in the squad?
So while last weekend’s Supercopa was a clear depiction of his ever-growing frustration with himself, the club and this situation as a whole, the moment in the 120th minute of the clash was the one that would ultimately push him off the brink. The two-game ban — the first he has received in his 17-year-long career — does not help either.
And yes, we’ve been hearing a lot of talk about his decision depending on the next sporting project the new president brings to the club. But it is also possible that his decision has long been made and no amount of convincing, begging or pleading is going to make him change his mind.
Joan Laporta: “I’m convinced that Lionel Messi wants to stay.”— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) January 18, 2021
The harsh reality is, there can be no new and innovative sporting project with Messi in the team, it can only happen without him. As long as Leo is in the team, the whole squad, tactics, game plan and the coach’s philosophy will inevitably revolve around him, the best player in the history of the beautiful game.
Whoever ends up sitting on that bench come 2021/22, be it Koeman, Xavi Hernández or someone out of the blue like Frank Lampard, if they have Messi in the team, they will make him the centrepiece of their team. And can you really question that decision?
So at the end of the day, is the Supercopa defeat the thing that finally triggers the end of Messi’s Barcelona story? The answer may not be as straightforward as you’d like it to be.
Let’s just say it doesn’t help sway his mind but in the grand scheme of things, his desire to help the club is inherently connected to his departure, and not in a way many think it is. Barcelona’s improvement depends on him leaving, it depends on the captain and their get-out-of-jail card not being there to pull them out of the gutters.
In the very close future, even from the upcoming summer moving forward, the Blaugrana could be facing a prospect of suddenly being left without their talisman and not knowing how to react. At all.
Messi’s decision forces them to think ahead and prepare for that heartbreaking, albeit inevitable, moment. He would never purposefully leave the club broken and beat if he didn’t genuinely believe that’s exactly what pushes them to the top in the end.
Leo will remain the greatest of all time and Barcelona will always be his club, one that he made into a giant of the modern age and one that will always be stronger with him than without him.
However, change is needed and he has to make the greatest sacrifice to save the crest that’s been on his chest his entire life.
After all, if you love something, you have to let it go.