Lionel Messi and Barcelona have always been one unbreakable force. Never in a million years would football fans have thought Messi would be leaving Barça before his retirement, let alone join a European powerhouse. As the move seems as close as it has ever been, it is time for fans to endure the decision and evaluate what’s next for the club.
Barcelona are not having the best of seasons this year, and the humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich seemed to be the rock bottom. But as Barça slowly reeled from the chains of mortification, a bombshell of news dropped this week. Reports emerged that Barcelona superstar and captain Lionel Messi wanted to move away from the Camp Nou. The message shook the entire footballing fraternity, let alone the culés.
As days pass, the idea of the one-club man leaving Barça appears imminent. Losing the captain and a club legend will be a big blow for any team. But when the player is also arguably the greatest of all time, you know, disaster awaits. The overarching effect on the club could be massive, and the immediate future of the team would be in limbo.
However, when it comes to supporting a club, any football club, the team comes before anything or anyone. Not even Lionel Messi supersedes the above notion. While it is disheartening to contemplate the idea of him leaving the club, it is necessary to think about what little merit it can achieve.
Reducing the wage bill
Every well-run football club in the world spend their money efficiently and keep their expenses in check. One of the main aspects of this is to have a wage cap, which limits the amount of money they can spend on a player’s salary. While not every club has this rule, they make sure not to overpay their players or give in to their demands. But, unfortunately, looking at the wage bill of Barcelona, the implementation is far from ideal.
The Catalan club’s wage bill is among the top three highest in the world. It amounts to more than half of the club’s total expenses. The alarming wage bill is one of the reasons for their economic struggle during this period of crisis. And undoubtedly, a large chunk of this wage bill amounts to the salary of Lionel Messi.
While no culé wants to see Messi leaving Barça, it would give the club some much-needed air to breathe economically | Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images
There is not one person in the world that can argue that the best player in the world does not deserve this money. But, if he does leave the club, the wage bill will seem far less scary. With other senior and high-earning players like Luis Suárez, Arturo Vidal and Ivan Rakitić possibly moving away, there is a chance to get the wage bill under control. While it is not Messi’s fault that he earns this much or the wage bill has increased exponentially, his departure would help the club financially. Much to the delight of the incompetent board in place.
Football has moved on from rigid formations and structures. The players occupy spaces with more fluidity resulting in smooth transitions and control of the game. Under Quique Setién and for some part under Ernesto Valverde, Messi got deployed on the right wing. While he was an explosive winger in his early days, his pace and stamina have decreased now, and he tends to drift inwards towards the central zone. While this has kept him closer to the goal, the space he vacates on the wing gets rarely utilised.
With Messi not in the line-up, proper wingers like Francisco Trincão or Ousmane Dembélé could finally stretch the opposition to the wing areas. While this would have worked even with Messi as a false nine, there are other complications. Players like Antoine Griezmann and Philippe Coutinho could have a better campaign as they could finally occupy their comfort zones which Messi generally dominates in. The central zones would be less crowded, and Barça could hope to obtain numerical superiority throughout the pitch.
Messi has been covering the team’s deficiencies for years, but his particular nature has been a great conditioning factor for coaches | Photo by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images
While Messi’s attacking exploits are second to none, his defensive contribution has decreased over the years. When it comes to the defensive aspect of the sport, a proper structure and shape often seem better. Attack as a team and defend as a unit is a general philosophy, and the blaugranas currently are not the ideal example for the same.
With Messi and Suárez in the picture, Barça essentially defend with nine men behind the ball. When the younger, less proven footballers replace their experienced counterparts, they tend to work harder to impress the fans and the gaffer. The team will naturally have more energy and zeal to succeed as new and young blood enter the fray. The pressing intensity and general tempo of Barcelona can finally increase.
Ripping off the band-aid
Barcelona fans had to go through several humiliations in the last three years. Roma, Anfield, Valencia, Bayern were salt on wounds of each underwhelming season. After every one of them, fans hoped that it was the last straw, and Barça would somehow rise back up. But each one was worse than the previous. The latest one looks like an all-time low, and the pressure for rebuilding has never been more crucial.
The general consensus of the club has always been to base the team around the Argentine. Still, rebuilding around Messi now will only result in yet another meltdown when he leaves or retires in the future. If Messi leaving materialised now, Barça could avoid another potential rebuild and start from scratch now. Barcelona could finally move on from the so-called Messidependencia and work on improving the youth and preparing them for the future.
Yes, the team will lose their x-factor for clutch games, and there will be no fear factor when opponents face Barça. Nonetheless, the Catalans do have talented and gifted footballers among their ranks and certainly do have the pull to attract talents across the world. Griezmann, Coutinho were match-winners on their own in their previous teams, and there is no reason why they cannot step up now.
Lionel Messi leaving Barça does not feel right. It is far from ideal. But, with the situation escalated beyond reversal, it is only right to think about the future and the best interests of the club. Saying farewell to club’s greatest ever player will not be easy, but there’s always some good in goodbye.
Why Erling Braut Håland should be Barcelona’s future number 9
While he would be an unconventional player at the club, why should Barcelona target Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Braut Håland after the departure of Luis Suárez?
A 19-year-old Erling Braut Håland took the footballing world by storm last year when he scored a hat-trick of goals on his Champions League debut and then went on to become only the second teenager to score in each of his first three appearances in the competition.
In the winter transfer window, Håland moved from Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg to German side Borussia Dortmund in hopes of both improving his game and leading Lucien Favre’s side to the Bundesliga title. The Norwegian wonderkid ended the Bundesliga season with 13 goals and 3 assists in 15 games, and Dortmund finished second on the table.
Håland’s 44-goal season put him on the radar of all the top clubs in the world, and while the striker is at the top of his game at Dortmund, his departure to a top European club in the future is inevitable at some point. Following club legend Luis Suárez‘s departure from Barcelona, the Catalan club is surely looking for El Pistolero‘s heir. With Barcelona looking for a top striker for the future, and the Norwegian machine looking at a European giant to move to, Håland might just be the name that reads on Barcelona’s number 9 shirt.
The transfer market is unpredictable, and Håland’s agent being notorious superagent – and supervillain – Mino Raiola, makes things even more complicated. Instead of looking at if Barcelona will seek Håland’s services, this article will look at why Barcelona should seek Håland’s services.
To begin with, let’s talk about Håland’s statistics. In the 2019/20 season, he scored 44 and assisted 10 goals. 10 of the goals were in the Champions League. He scored more goals than expected with his G90, 1.10, being higher than his xG90, 0.75. It has been established that Håland is a goalscoring machine. The Norwegian’s physique is absolutely astounding. At 6 feet 4 inches (1.94 metres), Håland provides quite the aerial threat, something the blaugrana club severely lacks.
In spite of his towering height, Håland is incredibly fast; he reached a top speed of 36 km/h and was 0.3 seconds off from breaking the world record for a 60-metre sprint. Football has evolved in recent years, with training facilities improving and more money being invested in fitness training, players have become more athletic. A striker who will face off against athletic defenders definitely needs to be a physical demon.
When at RB Salzburg, Barcelona rejected to sign Erling Braut Håland because he did not have the suited profile | Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos via Getty Images
Does Håland have the technical ability of a prime Luis Suárez or of a Samuel Eto’o? No. Would he be heavily involved in the build-up play like some of Barcelona’s preceding number 9s? No. If Håland was to join, he would be the most uncreative player in the squad, and believe it or not, that is exactly what Barcelona needs right now.
The recurring humiliations in the Champions League knockout stages have had one thing in common – apart from the poor defence –: the lack of a runner. Every elite team in Europe has elite runners: PSG have Kylian Mbappé, Liverpool have Mohammed Salah and Sadio Mané, Bayern have Robert Lewandowski and Serge Gnabry.
The Barcelona team, all these years, has been stacked with players who love having the ball at their feet all the time – Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann…The reason Messi’s last few years have been wasted is that he hasn’t been provided with a runner to get at the end of his through balls. This problem cannot occur again.
Barcelona’s future lies with talented playmakers like Francisco Trincão, Pedri, Riqui Puig, etc, and these playmakers need a proficient and clinical striker with good off the ball movement, to score goals for the team. Håland doesn’t only have a good physique, he is also an intelligent footballer. He knows how to time runs, how to hold the defence, and is a lethal shooter of the ball.
Erling Braut Håland would be quite an unorthodox signing for Barcelona. Quite unlike all of his predecessors. But if the club’s transfer policy fails to evolve while the game itself is evolving, then the Catalan club is going to become a relic of the past. A player like Lionel Messi is never going to appear again. Thus, after his departure, if Barcelona want to dominate in Europe like they once did, the team is going to have to function like a system, and Erling Håland is the piece that fits the puzzle the best.
So apart from everything discussed in this article, why should Erling Håland join Barcelona? Well, in his own words: why not?