It has been more than five months now since Barcelona’s war against Lionel Messi. The summer of 2020 was everything but a good experience for the Catalan giants and the best player in the history of their club and potentially the world. It has also been just a bit over two months since Leo’s latest interview where he once again opened his soul and, despite professing his true love for the Blaugrana badge, he also admitted the most painful of things: Messi wanted to leave Barcelona and, sadly, while he will stay and fight for now, that may change come next June.
Starting from January 1, the little Argentine was free to negotiate with any club his heart desired. He could’ve gone back to Newell’s Old Boys for all he cared. But he didn’t, nor was that ever the plan. Maybe in a more distant future and sure, if you asked him now, he would probably call that a distant dream of sorts.
But he never imagined the Barcelona fairytale to end in flames. How could he? A little boy with bags of talent accepted, cherished and brought up by a club thousands of miles away from his home. The club that gave him everything and the club that made him who he is – the most successful athlete on the planet. Not to mention it’s Barcelona who ensured he wouldn’t have to worry about anything but football for the rest of his days, nor would his children, or his children’s children, for that matter.
And yet, somehow, the higher you fly, the harder you fall as the saying goes. Of course, this has not been a fall for Messi, not on an individual level at least. For Barcelona, however, it represents more than just a fall in a sporting sense. A wounded giant stumbling its way through the motions, losing the stranglehold of its domestic success and the touch with its core values. ‘Més que un Club‘, they scream from the bottom of their lungs.
But is it truly so? After all these years and especially after the now-infamous summer of 2020, can the club truly stand proud and say, ‘We’re still more than a club’? Many would argue not. Because that club wouldn’t sell their soul to capitalism. Because that club would stay true to their values. And most of all, because that club wouldn’t bring themselves into the situation of last summer. Not even in the face of a prospect of losing Lionel Messi of all people.
Now that we think about it, would that club really get into a position of losing Leo at all? Likely not. But here we are and the summer is rapidly approaching yet again. ‘In June, we’ll see’, said Messi back then and now, June is only months away.
And Barcelona? Despite some signs of life, the clash against Paris Saint-Germain was a cruel awakening, a mirage of improvement shattered in front of our eyes. Barcelona are still not good enough. Not good enough to win. Not good enough for the Champions League. And, sadly, not good enough for Lionel Messi.
“I wanted to keep competing to win trophies,” he told Jordi Évole on LaSexta but can he truly do that if he stays in Catalonia? Of course, he would never abandon the club in the middle of the season and he confirmed as much himself. Messi will stay and fight for the Azulgranas because he is still, and in a way always will be, an Azulgrana no matter what happens next.
He didn’t leave after Roma. He didn’t leave after Liverpool. He didn’t leave after Bayern Munich. But now, he may leave after Paris Saint-Germain. Not because he’s abandoning the ship as many will inevitably say. It’s because the team needs a change; a hard reset to bring them back to reality.
With Leo on the team, there will never be a new sporting project. You can build a team around him. Let us rephrase that, you should have built a team around him. But that’s where the old board has failed the most – they failed at the only task that was given to them. They had the best player in the history of the sport pledging his undying allegiance to them and all they had to do was play to his strengths and not mess things up too much.
And boy did they mess it up. In fact, they did just that and not only that; they messed it up to the point where even Messi cannot fix it anymore. Or rather, he can, but only by leaving the club of his life behind. ‘The club of his life’. That sounds like an overly romanticised term: a term long forgotten in the modern age of mercenaries, glory hunters and scavengers.
But those are the words Leo had used. He called Barça ‘my life’ and you can’t and shouldn’t doubt his words. The intent, the weight and the emotion in those words are palpable when he utters them. But unfortunately, there’s also a little bit of sadness behind them too.
‘The club is in a difficult moment, everything that surrounds Barcelona is bad. It’s in a really bad, bad way. And it’s going to be difficult to get back to where it was.’, he exclaimed then as well. And then his contract got leaked as well as a cherry on top of an incredibly difficult period.
This, undoubtedly, was an inside job that aimed to make him the scapegoat. Barcelona are deep in the red, as Messi himself knows. But while letting him go might have a positive effect on their fiscal balance, at least without accounting for the incredible profit he brings on his own, it may not be enough to suddenly save them from disaster.
So it still begs the question: ‘Should Lionel Messi leave Barcelona for his own sake?’. The team is obviously still in decline and still far from where they should be or have been, for that matter. But maybe the question is simply phrased wrong. Maybe it should say: ‘Should Lionel Messi leave Barcelona for their own sake?’.
Even after they broke his heart year after year. Even after they wasted his prime turning the club into a European punching bag. And yes, even after they stabbed him in the back countless times, he should still do them one last favour. He should probably leave Barcelona.
Because once he does, everything can and should start anew. Will there be an instantaneous effect? Yes, the drawback could be incredibly ugly. For a team that has relied on one man and one man only for years to suddenly lose him will feel like an insurmountable problem. They might suffer for it immensely. No, they will suffer for it immensely.
But that too shall pass. In time, they will learn how to act as a team once again; a team that needs a rebuild and without Messi, it will get one. We should also not forget about the elections in March. One way or the other, Barcelona are getting a new president and they’re getting him soon.
And perhaps, with a proper vision and a winning project, Leo can be convinced to stay. But at this point, would that really be what the new and fresh start needs? It’s too late to start building a team around Messi now. Years too late even.
Font: "Our base plan is to keep Messi in the squad and I am convinced that if we govern, he will stay at Barcelona." pic.twitter.com/Kzz3stRgKj— Barça Universal (@BarcaUniversal) February 19, 2021
He is 33 years old but it’s not really about the age that much, is it? With his ability, talent and hard work, it wouldn’t be a big surprise to see Leo at the top of the mountain for years to come. But is it really healthy for a club to mould their team around a soon-to-be 34-year-old player who they repeatedly stabbed in the back? Do we really need to mount even more burden onto his shoulders?
“I needed it, the club needed it, it was good for everyone,” he said when asked about his wish to leave last summer. And while you can see him smile far more now and even though Ronald Koeman may be onto something despite the ugly defeats Barcelona have suffered, that sentence still feels quite true.
It will be ugly. It will hurt. And it will be an end of an era – for Barcelona, for Messi and for us. But as much as it’s painful to admit, maybe Leo does have to leave this coming summer.
For the sake of all of us.