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.
A significant week in Barcelona for Lionel Messi’s future
It is a topic that gets the football world giddy. The fantasies of Lionel Messi playing in the Premier League, the formation of another star-studded front three alongside Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe, and for the romantics, a return to Argentina is set in their hearts.
After the infamous events of the summer of 2020, now more than ever, the biggest legend of FC Barcelona looks closer than ever to leaving.
Many Barça fans feel that it could be a good thing that the six-time Ballon D’or winner leaves, bringing up the point that the Catalan side needs a hard restart next season and the idea of building a team around a 33-year-old does not seem logical, as it only benefits the near future.
This is a valid point and most likely comes from those who want not only the best for Barca but Messi as well, as Cúlers are not ignorant to the fact that the club cannot promise their beloved number ten the fifth Champions League trophy he craves in its current situation.
However, in an ideal world, Barça fans would want Messi to stay and win his fifth European Cup wearing Blaugrana and if that is to happen, the week that went by is the only decider on course for the club and player alike.
The Copa Del Rey comeback
In the interview with Jordi Évole on LaSexta last December, Lionel Messi stated that he “wanted to keep competing to win trophies.”
Two weeks ago, that desire for this season looked unlikely. Atletico Madrid had a sizeable lead over the Catalans in La Liga, Paris Saint-Germain built up a 1-4 lead in the Champions League, and Sevilla had a 2-0 advantage in the Copa del Rey.
The first of these tasks was addressed on Wednesday night, in what turned out to be a memorable night in the history of FC Barcelona. A 94th minute Gerard Pique header sent Barça into extra time, where Martin Braithwaite completed the comeback to send the Catalans through to the final 3-2 on aggregate.
The chance to win another trophy would no doubt have pleased Messi but it is the story of the match that will help keep the Argentine at the club next season.
If Messi stopped and looked around the Camp Nou on Wednesday night, he would have seen determination and heart from his teammates to keep going to the final whistle, an abundance of youthful talent performing at a level beyond their years, and world-class players such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen ready to step up when certain challenges emerged.
Throughout one night, all these combined into a sort of presentation to the Argentine, exhibiting the future of FC Barcelona and where the team is headed.
There is no denying that the gap between Barcelona and Europe’s elite is still large, but this performance showed the signs Messi has called for and that is something that can be noted down for the future.
The perfect Liga weekend
Looking ahead to the weekend, the second of Barcelona’s comeback missions received an encouraging boost.
The Catalan side were looking to go 16 games unbeaten in La Liga in a match against twelfth place Osasuna and a win would not only see them extend this run but close the gap on Atletico Madrid to just two points, albeit with two games in hand.
The importance of this weekend lied in Atletico’s game as they face city rivals Real Madrid. In an ideal world, Barça fans would hope that the spoils are shared in El Derbi allowing the Blaugrana side to gain points on both Madrid clubs.
Barcelona’s prayers were catered to, and not only did the Catalan giants pick up three ugly, yet important points from their encounter against Osasuna, the capital outfits had to settle for a draw. Playing the angel’s advocate, even if Atleti had come away with the three points, it would essentially narrow the title race to just two teams considering Los Colchoneros gap at the top.
From Lionel Messi’s point of view, winning the La Liga title from the position Barça found themselves in a few weeks back would be a huge encouragement to stay for another season, especially if it is accompanied by the Copa del Rey. The Argentine has been part of teams that let leads slip over the last three seasons and to flip the script on that, would ultimately show progress.
The Presidential election
The final act of the week was the 2021 Presidential Election, where the next president of FC Barcelona was chosen on Sunday night. Joan Laporta, Victor Font, and Toni Freixa were the three candidates fighting for Barça’s top spot, and all have addressed the situation of Lionel Messi throughout their campaigns.
Joan Laporta had emerged as the favourite for a second spell, and like everyone suspected, the Spaniard swayed the elections, coming on top as the winner. Ideally, it would have a significant impact on the future of La Pulga, as Messi showed up to vote for the elections for the first time in his life. In fact, Laporta went on to claim that Leo congratulated him on the night. His renewal will be one of the many hurdles Laporta will have to jump over.
Throughout the presidential campaign, it has been rumoured that Messi will not stay if Joan Laporta does not win. Laporta himself fuelled these rumours on Tuesday during the last of the Presidential debates.
The Spaniard stated, “If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona”.
“If I don’t win, I am sure that Leo will not stay at Barcelona. “Messi will weigh up the offer we make him. I’m convinced that if the other candidates win, Messi will not remain at Barcelona. He wasn’t happy during Freixa’s time on the board.”Joan Laporta in the presidential debate
If these feelings are believed to be true, the future of Lionel Messi could take a dramatic twist on Sunday.
Having said all this, Lionel Messi’s future could come down to one simple desire, to win a fifth European Cup. At 33 years old, the Argentine does not have time on his side in this pursuit, and it could be years before Barcelona can compete for Europe’s top prize again.
With ready-made teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain waiting on the side-lines, the final decision in June could come down to this week — if this week does not make it for the six-time Ballon d’Or winner, there is little chance anything else will.