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Does the Supercopa loss trigger the end for Messi’s Barcelona story?

Domagoj Kostanjšak

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Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

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‘.

Lionel Messi’s past is calling him to the future. (Photos via Getty)

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?

Barcelona need to let go. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

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.

Messi’s contributions can never be down-played. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

I’ve been a Barcelona fan for more than half of my life. What started as blind love is slowly turning into professional writing. Now, I get to write about Barca, analyse them, and voice my opinions on them across platforms. I’m happy to be a part of this big project.

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The psychology at Barcelona: A leaf out of Jurgen Klopp’s book

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Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Guest Contributor: Darren Looney

“When I came here, the size of the club was a burden. Now it’s our safety net, it’s our trampoline, it’s our home, it’s our basis, it’s everything to us. Now we are Liverpool before the club was Liverpool and we were just the guys who were trying to be good enough”.

In Melissa Reddy’s book ‘Believe Us’, Jurgen Klopp, the man who led Liverpool to become champions of England, Europe and the world, details how a change in psychology from having the clubs past success being used as a noose around their necks to becoming fully confident individuals, helped the club end their 30-year wait for a league title.  

FC Barcelona has a noose of its own hanging over the Camp Nou at present. It has been placed there by former president Josep Maria Bartomeu, having left the club in a state that is unable to match the success seen over the last two decades. 

The incoming president and manager will be the ones left to cut it free, and with limited economic resources to do this, a change in the mindsets of the lads could play a part in helping the club get the most out of what they already have. 

Barcelona’s current state

The Josep Maria Bartomeu’s presidency oversaw a circus rather than a football club. In this timeframe, Barcelona lost the respect of its fellow European giants through humiliating performances in the Champions League, selling Neymar Jr. to Paris Saint Germain, poor recruitment, and a squad constantly breaking under pressure.

Players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Lionel Messi, and Ousmane Dembele, of those that started in the latest Champions League match, have all been through the most of these embarrassing moments, which has no doubt left some trauma. 

Gerard Pique has been on the end of this drama over and over. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Others in the squad have laid witness to Bartomeu disregarding the club’s motto ‘MÉS QUE UN CLUB’ with his handling of club legends Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi’s transfer situations in the summer. That could not have inspired the non-senior members of the squad with any confidence. 

Adding to that, players like Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Junior Firpo, and Antoine Griezmann have had their names constantly attached to rumoured player plus cash deals, such as the Neymar offers, which can lead to them questioning if they are good enough. This is the sort of psychology you do not want around a club trying to compete.     

When asked about whether a sports psychologist would benefit FC Barcelona back in December, Barça manager Ronald Koeman stated, “I don’t believe in psychologists and mental [issues]. If you play for Barca, pressure exists, you know that, and you have to overcome it”. 

This answer shows the Dutchman’s ignorance of the importance of a player’s psychological state. Additionally, it also shows arrogance about the club and the stress that comes binding with it. Ignorance that is evident in the pictures of Lenglet, as he left the Camp Nou after Sunday’s match in tears, most likely due to a lack of support. The kind of lack of support that eventually leads to careers dissolving.

Lenglet deserves support right now, something he is not getting. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)

In the same press conference, Koeman stated that “this team has enough personality and experience” to get through bad moments. This “experience” is also susceptible to being psychologically overwhelmed, the dressing room at halftime at Anfield is evidence of this.  

Whether it is Koeman or the next president’s manager, one will have to get a hold of this problem. Luckily for them, the blueprint of how much power the manager can have over this can be seen in the place Jordi Alba shed his tears. 

The Jurgen Klopp effect

When Jurgen Klopp arrived in Liverpool, one of the first things he addressed was a change in psychology from the supporters. He wanted the fans to believe in the process, and in his first press conference, he enforced this by saying, “we need to feel the confidence and trust of the people”.

In ‘Believe Us’, Klopp speaks about the psychological state he found the players in when he first arrived. He claims that “The players were obviously listening to all the voices saying they are not good enough for the club or that I can’t wait to get rid of them.” A situation some Barca players find themselves in now, as mentioned earlier.

Klopp flipped Liverpool around onto its head. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

One of the German’s first instructions was for the players to pay no attention to comments outside of him and his coaching staff, a message that took longer than expected to resonate, as the team collapsed in the title race halfway through the next season.

Klopp explains that the collapse was down to the players not complying with this request. The German explained how the players were focused on people saying, “they don’t have a plan B for deep-defending sides, they can only play one way”. A criticism that Cúlers this season know too well.

Klopp emphasises the importance a strong mentality within games had on the Red’s fortunes and claims new players alone would not have been enough. This is a note worth taking for those looking at Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe to change Barcelona’s fortunes

It took Klopp years to convince some players that they were good enough to play for a club as big as Liverpool. New players added to the quality of the squad but that psychological attitude to keep going for the full 90 minutes, no matter the score, is what led the club to their recent success. This was visible countless times over last season as well, as Pool continued to take hits at teams till the last minute till they eventually broke. Barcelona, too, have been on the receiving end of their incredible mentality.

Koeman might be right in that the players do not need a sports psychologist. However, Lenglet’s incident exhibits that the psychological state of his players is something that he must take control of and not ignore.  

Barcelona need to become one unit to strive forwards as a team. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Next season has the potential to be an important one for Barcelona’s near future. With a new president at the helm and a potential new manager. The Catalan side needs to banish the psychological doubts leftover by Bartomeu’s reign and move forward as one unit. 

The fans and players need to get behind the project put in place, as Jurgen Klopp puts it “when you agree on a common idea and work towards it together, you can create something special”.

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