As speculations about Lionel Messi’s future at Barcelona continues to linger, we take a look at how things turned from a sweet relationship to a battle between player and club. Messi has declared that he wants to call it quits with the club. Just a few years ago, it would have been impossible to imagine that the superstar forward would ever want to move away from Camp Nou, never mind pushing for one himself. This is the reality that has now struck the football world as what seemed like an unbreakable bond between Messi and Barcelona, now looks so fragile that third parties have to step in to find a resolution. The fact is that Lionel Messi has had enough, he wants to leave the club. To have openly requested to be allowed to move away means he wants to leave, no doubt about that. However, Barcelona are unwilling to sanction a move and to think that their all-time top goal-scorer has asked to leave on a free transfer is hard to take for Barca, especially now that they find themselves amid a crisis. Conceding the La Liga title to rivals, Real Madrid in the manner that they did last season is a testament that all is not well at the club. And if that was not enough proof of their decline, the abysmal manner in which they were ousted from the Champions League by eventual winners Bayern Munich, is another proof. To go a full season without a trophy is something uncommon with modern-day Barcelona.
How did we get here?
Just five years ago, Barcelona became the first European side to win a continental treble on two occasions, having recorded their first such treble in 2009 under Pep Guardiola. A feat that their recent semi-final conquerors Bayern Munich matched in 2020. They won those trebles, playing thrilling and exciting attacking football. The fearsome attacking trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar, famed as MSN, led them to that second treble under manager, Luis Enrique. Although they continued to dominate domestically afterwards, the loss of Brazilian magician, Neymar Junior to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 was the beginning of an end for Barcelona. Neymar was the player who was tipped to step into the shoes of Lionel Messi, simply put, he wasn’t signed to only augment the argentine, but to eventually replace him with time.
Barca’s desperate attempts
Following Neymar’s £198m transfer to PSG, the Catalans made several attempts to replace him. They coughed out around £135m for the signature of Ousmane Dembele who joined from Borussia Dortmund that same summer after Liverpool turned down several bids for Phillipe Coutinho. The Brazilian would later join Barca the following winter, for a reported fee of £105m with add on bonuses. However, neither Coutinho nor Dembele could sufficiently fill the void left by Neymar’s departure, prompting a change of formation to 4-4-2 which allowed Messi and Suarez to be paired up front instead of the regular 4-3-3. But with Suarez aging and unable to run at defenses like he used to do, Barca swooped into the market for Antoine Griezmann. Barcelona have also made changes in midfield and defense. The aim is to keep the squad fresh and competitive, but the majority of their current squad and starting eleven are at least 30 years old or non-home grown players.
End of the Messi era?
Messi has for more than a decade contributed largely to Barcelona’s success. His goals, assists, the numbers, they speak for themselves. He is the club’s all-time top scorer. He also holds the record for assists at Barcelona. The individual awards are clear evidence of his hard-work on the pitch. Barcelona have won 34 trophies since Messi’s debut in 2004. If he leaves now, he would be hard to replace.
What is at stake?
The situation is delicately poised at the moment. Losing Messi would be a big loss for Barca. Losing him on a free transfer, an even bigger loss. However they could still scoop in some funds should they decide to sell him. The issue is that the club does not wish to sell him. A La Liga statement on the matter claims that no transfer would be sanctioned until the €700m release clause in Messi’s contract is met. Will any club be able to match that figure? Especially with FFP rules still prevalent. Barca could have Messi in a similar situation to Bale at Real Madrid. The Welshman receives a huge wage, but rarely plays despite being fit. Should this happen in Messi’s case, Barca would end up losing. They would pay the Argentine’s wages, but may not get the best from him. He would then leave as a free agent in 2021.
What next for Barcelona?
It would be best to talk things out with Lionel Messi and try to reach a consensus. Perhaps they could convince him to see out his contract while helping the club rebuild the team. If successful, they could enjoy his services for another full season. During which time they would strengthen their squad.
Barcelona’s summer transfer activities
President Josep Bartomeu stated that the club would be overhauling its squad this summer. Here’s a list of some of their latest transfers:
- Miralem Pjanic
- Francisco Trincão
- Ivan Rakitic