S. SOORAJ | 12th August 2021

5th August, 2021 will forever be etched in the minds of Barcelona fans as a dark day. It was the day when the official FC Barcelona Twitter page took it upon themselves to announce that Lionel Messi will no longer be a part of the club.

I went off Twitter, thought about the news for a second and the flashbacks came back rushing. Barca and Messi are the couple you’d think would never break up but they never tell you what happens after the happy ending in movies. It isn’t always Kodak moments, even though this love story had more than any, be it real life or the movies.

Ever since I’ve started watching football, Lionel Andres Messi has been more than just a part of my club. Leo is Barcelona. Barcelona is Leo. Despite being separate entities, the pair are in harmony because of certain unmissable values: humility, class, success and family.

As this internal monologue played in my head, I started to think how the virtuoso who had played almost every game for the club over the past decade was never ever going to don the Blaugrana colors again.

It was too much to take in then, it’s too much to take in now.

While the rumours surrounding Messi’s departure have been around for a long time, everyone had an ounce of belief that he would somehow end up staying, one way or the other. Even when the Argentine skipper expressed his interest to leave the club last summer, we didn’t see him exit.

Hindsight truly is a wonderful thing because, and I have to admit this- if Messi had left last year, on his own terms, it wouldn’t have been this saddening. Of course, we would all miss him.

But if anyone has earned the right to leave the club when they wanted, after squeezing out every ounce of genius all for the club and it’s fans over the years, it’s the man that wore No. 30, 19 and 10.

But to see Lionel Messi in tears, doing everything in his power to stay at my beloved club even during the most difficult of times is heartbreak of the highest order.

But being a fan of this footballing institution as well as its face, the journey I’ve been through has been a rollercoaster ride.

There were breathtaking moments, jubilant victories and even a few disasters down the lane. But whatever happens, we always knew in our hearts that we would get to watch Lionel Andres Messi back in action and that was as satisfying as a full stomach.

Win, lose or draw, genius was guaranteed. That was the Leo Messi package- dropping a shoulder and leaving defenders for dead, picking passes you didn’t know existed and first touches taken with care like caressing a baby’s head.

La Masia’s greatest example gave me a ton of moments to smile about for a lifetime, even during treacherous times. It is clear as day that Barcelona has been going through a rough patch in the past few years. Soul-crushing defeats in the Champions League, trophyless seasons, Bartomeu and so much more.

But if hope is a dangerous thing, it’s lethal when you have Messi around. And we saw that in 2021.

When Barcelona faced PSG in the Round of 16 of the Champions League earlier this year, this was a prime example of how Messi can bring joy amid the devastation.

Kylian Mbappe had decimated Barça at the Camp Nou 4-1 in the 1st leg and after going 1-0 down in the 2nd leg, it wasn’t much of a contest.

But in the 37th minute of the game that seemed done and dusted, Messi managed to pull out a spellbinding goal from outside the box, blasting the ball into the top left corner past Keylor Navas, who was as taken aback as us.

That one second made me physically euphoric. There was this feeling in my chest that signalled hope. I was ready to get hurt all over again. Jumping out of my sofa and punching the air in excitement, an Argentine footballer miles away could bring so much out of me, time and again.

By the way, the score was 5-1 on aggregate which tells you all you need to know.

While La Remontada didn’t see a sequel, Lionel Messi’s habit of making us hope, even if we ended up on the losing side is something I’m going to miss and how. Who’s going to make me dream again? How do I just detach myself from a player who can dictate the course of my entire week through 90 minutes of football?

Every time the club is down and out, all eyes go towards La Pulga, hoping for a miracle.

Be it the time when he scored a brace to help us overcome a 2-0 slump against Milan in 2012 or coming on as a sub against Sevilla in 2018 when the team was trailing, and scoring a wonderful curler in the 89th minute from outside the box.

It’s a cliché but he really made the impossible possible.

But how can anyone replicate what he does when he makes world-class defenders like Jerome Boateng fall to the floor and chips the ball past Manuel Neuer to end Bayern Munich?

I remember how this clip used to rule the internet back in 2015 and 6 years later, you can still find it doing the rounds on social media.

Another time when Messi broke the Internet was probably the most Messi-esque moment in his career. It is also one of my favourite moments of Leo, period.

Unsurprisingly, it was the 90th minute winner at the Santiago Bernabeu when the game was tied 2-2 but to him, it was a normal day at the office that ended with a winner that only superheroes are capable of.

Messi went on to do the iconic celebration by holding his jersey high in front of a Real Madrid crowd that went into ‘DND’ mode. Going to sleep that night was as impossible for me as stopping the Copa America champion for Los Blancos.

That celebration will live with me till the day I die. That image alone deserves to be in a museum.

And for the last time, once again, Lionel Messi is the talk of the town, sending social media into a chaotic, emotional, crazed mess.

As when, debates on the internet or in the playground went everyone obsessed with the game into one. When you say Messi, Ronaldo has to come after and vice-versa.

To back him, let people see how unreal the man is from our eyes to others; that’s life as a culer. Leo consumed our lives like nothing else and everyday felt like the honeymoon period when you’re first infatuated with someone.

If rival fans that came as friends would marvel at the man in the Champions League, a handful of times in a year, us, as a fanbase would be the same, week in, week out. It never got old and we never got used to it.

From getting stamped on, booed, injured and betrayed, never did it affect an emperor that made other kings kneel to his greatness.

The beauty of Lionel Messi was he could do whatever he wanted.

He was the primary goal scorer of the team during the prime of Xavi and Iniesta but that didn’t stop him from making unimaginable passes and dribbles we’ve never seen before.

On the contrary, the Atomic Flea took over a deeper role in the MSN era, feeding Suarez and Neymar better than Rashford. However, his goals never dried up and he was quite easily the best player in the greatest front 3 in history.

If 2009-2015 wasn’t untouchable enough, post the golden years,

he took it upon himself to carry the team, all by himself while leading the side to glory. Especially in the 2017-18 campaign, when Barcelona had an impeccable 37 undefeated-game run. He played in every single game that campaign, except the final 38th game of the season and funnily enough, that is the only game we lost that season.

If imagining Barça without Leo was impossible, imagining Barça without Leo when the club is a shadow of its glorious self is terrifying. But that conversation has been had way too many times at this point.

And that too ten-fold ever since Lionel Messi has officially become a Paris Saint-Germain player.

For all the times you made me smile, dream, shed tears of joy, make the beautiful game a work of art, fill me with pride and fall in love over and over again, I will remain eternally grateful.

Gracias, Leo.