Barcelona and Lionel Messi were a match made in heaven for so many years. However, the once-great partnership now looks to be on the brink with the Argentine determined to leave the club. So what are the reasons behind the most iconic legacy in footballing history looking likely to be at an end as Messi is set to leave Barça?
At a young age, the talent of Lionel Messi was obvious. Playing in Argentina, at Newell’s Old Boys, a young Messi was attracting attention from teams across Europe. Of course, it was the blaugranas that signed him. They were so desperate to do so that Messi’s first contract was on a napkin. When he arrived at La Masía, he showed what a fantastic decision it was. His quality was clear to everyone, but nobody could have predicted just how good the boy from Rosario would become.
Messi would go on to be Barcelona’s greatest ever player, having a pivotal role during the club’s most successful period in its history. However, this fairy tale now seems to almost be at its conclusion as the club that Argentine loves turns its back on him and tarnishes his legacy. What are the reasons for the captain wanting to break up such relationship?
The sporting project
One of the obvious reasons for Messi wanting to leave the Camp Nou is the sporting project, or lack of one. For three seasons in a row now, Barcelona has been miserably dumped out of the Champions League. Though winning La Liga twice in that time, there is no doubt that Messi has had to drag the team to these titles. Now 33, the Barça captain must be considering if he can continue to carry the weight of such a large club on his shoulders. Messi is a born winner and wants to be part of a winning project. He has given more than any culé could ever have asked of him. Nonetheless, it is the club letting him down that is the problem.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner has watched as president Josep Maria Bartomeu has thrown over €1.2 billion at the team during his time in charge. Still, only a fraction of these signings has added anything to the squad. Messi witnessed his great friend Dani Alves forced out the club. Legends such as Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández and Andrés Iniesta departed and were never even close to being replaced. Bartomeu also failed to keep Messi’s close friend Neymar at the club and has shamefully dismissed Luis Suárez with little respect.
Messi is a winner, but he has been left alone too many times | Photo by Manu Fernández / Pool via Getty Images
The team’s performances have become worrying and Messi is left isolated more and more, being the only one contributing anything significant in attack. An ageing and mentally weak squad are not what the Barça legend deserves for the final years of his career. The sporting project has been a failure for the past three seasons, and it looks almost certain to continue.
In recent seasons, squad planning has been a major issue. Barcelona has been left with a squad that has too many older players that are difficult to drop. Players were starting regularly that were producing sub-standard performances regularly. Signings have been made that never should have happened as they were not right for the system. There has been a lack of depth in many areas and this has meant the core squad struggle with injuries and fatigue at crucial moments in the season.
There can be no question too that Messi’s teammates have let him down on several big moments over the last three seasons. Particularly in the Champions League knockout stages, many of the heavyweights have cost Barça matches. Against Liverpool in 2019, Messi scored two goals in the first leg and created many clear-cut chances for others over both legs. Even so, every time the players failed to step up and take these chances. Against Bayern too, basic mistakes and cheap goals were given away by experienced players that should know better. It is sad watching the European giants perform like this, but little blame can be put on the captain for these displays.
In addition, the over-reliance on Messi has meant teams are able to solely focus on Barça’s number 10. There is not enough responsibility being taken by others in the starting eleven. Furthermore, the dependency on Messi has meant managers feel like they cannot drop or rest him. There is nobody else in the team that can come in and fill the role of the Argentine and that is worrying for a club of Barcelona’s standards. At his age, Messi needs to be rotated at times to keep him fresh and avoid fatigue.
The Barcelona board
It is evident that the relationship between the board and the dressing room is almost non-existent. Particularly for Messi, who is the captain and long-time player, it has been difficult seeing his club destroyed by the board. There have been many instances too when Bartomeu has tried to save his image at the expense of others. None more so that Messi.
The board has often refused to take the blame for Barcelona’s on and off-pitch miseries | Photo by Josep Lago / AFP via Getty Images
The Barcelona president has been involved in many scandals such as I3 Ventures and economic troubles. Instead of supporting the Barça legend, the board has done the opposite and looked to tarnish his name for their benefit. They have portrayed him in the media as the scapegoat to deflect their failings in managing the club. This is not the way that the greatest player in history should be leaving the club.
Lionel Messi was always meant to finish his career at Barcelona and enjoy his final years at the club. That said, mismanagement at the board level has seen this dream shattered. A player that has given his everything to the club from his loyalty to many incredible trophies. Fans should remember how much Leo has given the club over the years and not buy into Bartomeu’s media-driven smearing campaign against the legend. Though no player is bigger than the club, Messi deserves to be treated with far more respect than he has been under this president.
Determining Barcelona’s best line-up for the Clasico
El Clásico is the biggest club rivalry in the world as its links with Spanish history make it more and more heated year after year. In recent years, Barcelona came out on top in most fixtures with Ernesto Valverde having one of the most impressive records against Real Madrid. The likes of Pep Guardiola, Gerardo Martino, and Luis Enrique, too, all have El Clásico nights they’ll surely remember for as long as they’re alive. This weekend, Ronald Koeman takes on Madrid for the first time.
Who starts? Who sits? Koeman has a lot of thinking to do. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
The aforementioned coaches had set teams with players such as Samuel Eto’o, Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, and Carles Puyol at their disposal and they went to play Madrid deeper into the season than where Ronald Koeman is now. For example, in the 2-1 win at Camp Nou, where Luis Suarez scored the winner, Luis Enrique went into the game off the back of a superb run of fixtures and knew which team would start the game.
Due to the recent crisis, Ronald Koeman comes into his first El Clásico with, perhaps, some blank spaces as his team is in a transition period. After a loss against Getafe on the weekend, Koeman’s side demolished Ferencvaros in the Champions League, helping the squad gain morale. That said, he will have to thing hard and through about the team selection, otherwise it could come back to hurt the team in an important game.
With Marc-Andre ter Stegen out injured, there is little time that Neto will start this game. He has been solid so far for the Catalan giants, so it is far from being a problem for Ronald Koeman. In the defence, Koeman has other fish to fry, and the right-back position is a much more problematic one.
Roberto usually puts on a show against Madrid – but is that enough to warrant a starting spot? (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP via Getty Images)
With Jordi Alba out for the recent few games, Sergiño Dest started the last two fixtures on the left, but the former Valencia defender is expected to be back for El Clásico, which raises doubts over who starts on the right. Rushing Alba back is not the most intelligent decision, but the defender was rumoured to be ready to play the Hungarians on Tuesday, and Koeman might have taken his left-back out of the team to start him against Madrid.
If Alba starts, which he’ll most likely do, Koeman cannot overlook Dest’s recent performances, and he should start ahead of Sergi Roberto, who isn’t in his best run of form.
With the two full-backs sorted, Koeman will surely start his best centre-back pairing in Gérard Piqué and Clément Lenglet since they’re fully fit for the game.
The former Everton manager has a clear plan at Barça, and he’s played a 4-2-3-1 in every game as Barça coach. Frenkie de Jong is a constant in the double pivot, starting every game and will undoubtedly feature against Zinedine Zidane’s side.
An experienced head alongside de Jong shoulders. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
However, Koeman hasn’t found de Jong’s partner in midfield yet, and Miralem Pjanic’s performance against Ferencvaros was from his best. Sergio Busquets began every game prior to this one under his new coach, so getting him back in the side after rest might tempt Koeman. De Jong looked comfortable alongside both players but was evidently freer next to Pjanic. That said, it looks like a far call to see him start again.
For the mediapunta or attacking midfielder, role, Philippe Coutinho will take up that place as he confirmed his superb start to the term with a great goal against the Hungarians. Pedri should get some minutes as his recent outings have been spectacular. The former Las Palmas midfielder will undoubtedly come on, regardless of the scoreline.
Lionel Messi is the best player in the world, and he showed more intent against Ferencvaros and will most definitely start against his favourite opponents. As for the left-wing, Ansu Fati has been on fire this term and, with his performance on Tuesday has cemented his place in the starting lineup.
The big debate takes place on the right, where three players fight for the right-winger position. Ousmane Dembélé, Francisco Trincão, and Antoine Griezmann are the three players in contention to start El Clásico.
Griezmann is going through a rough patch, and while he needs all the confidence in the world, mustn’t be in the Catalan giants’ XI for the most significant encounter of the season yet.
With the World Cup winner out of the conversation, Trincão and Dembélé – both of whom made heads turn against Ferencvaros are in pole position to be the third attacker in the lineup. Trincão started the game against the Hungarians, impressing on the right, but was not efficient enough as he did not score or assist on the night.
However, a lot of attacks came from his side, something that did not happen when Griezmann was in the eleven. Dembélé, who replaced the Portuguese, was a welcomed addition to the side and his piece of skill before assisting Pedri was a joy to watch. His easy goal shouldn’t make him a clear favourite, but his performance made his chances of starting rise.
Fati has been marshaling the Barcelona attack this season – will he do it again against Madrid? (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
Nonetheless, Dembélé is recovering from a long-term injury and lacks match sharpness right now. The Frenchman could be an impact sub for Trincão or Fati as his pace might terrify the tired legs of fellow Frenchman Ferland Mendy. That said, Koeman could start the 23-year-old against Madrid, subbing him off early for a more lethal finisher like Griezmann.
Barça Universal’s Starting XI against Madrid:
Dest – Pique – Lenglet – Alba
Busquets – De Jong
Trincāo – Coutinho – Fati