ADITYA GOKHALE | 27th August 2020

Lionel Messi was introduced to the world back in the January of 2006 when he appeared alongside Ronaldinho on the cover of ‘FourFourTwo’ magazine following an interview. The Brazilian made a claim that seemed like the very statement to avoid when talking about a young player in adding heaps of pressure; not to mention the hype already surrounding the pea-sized Argentine.

“Best player in the world? I’m not even the best at Barça.”

As it turned out, Ronaldinho was right. The shy, 5’6” boy from Rosario was everything he perceived him to be and much more. Just individually, Leo Messi has gone on to win 6 Ballon d’Or’s and 5 European Golden Boots for the Blaugrana. And if you’ve ever watched him play, you know exactly why he’s a god amongst mere mortals. Up until 2017, the relationship between Messi and FC Barcelona seemed like the perfect one, as it seemed obvious that his genius had been nurtured at the perfect abode and without a fleck of doubt, he’d retire at the club. Fast forward to August 2020 and that seems highly unlikely to say the least.

The Feud

As multiple sources have reported, La Pulga Atomica wants to trigger a clause which states that he can terminate his contract as per his liking, leaving on a free transfer. However, the only problem for his entourage is the fact that the aforementioned clause expired in June and for Messi to be able to leave with ease, the onus was on him to report this to the club before 10th June. Barcelona has no intention of letting their all-time top goalscorer leave on a free transfer and their argument is that since their skipper failed to communicate his desire to leave the club as per the deadline, for a club to come calling, they would have to fork out his exorbitant €700 million fee. Messi’s camp however make the reasonable argument that since the coronavirus outbreak delayed the campaign, the clause in the contract should also be duly adaptable.

Reports have suggested so far that Barcelona would like to keep the matter out of court but would obviously prefer the greatest asset in their club’s history didn’t leave for free. It is still early days in what may well be the biggest transfer saga we have ever witnessed. Messi has for a year or two expressed how he wasn’t happy with how the club was being managed and the direction Barça was headed in.

But what happened that forced Messi out? Did it happen all of a sudden, or was it a minefield waiting to explode?

Dirty Politics

FC Barcelona is no stranger to dirty politics being played out in the background. It all started for the Catalan side when Spanish businessman, Sandro Rosell took over as President from the lovable figure of Joan Laporta in the 2010 presidential elections. Rosell brought a new idea of profitability and moneymaking to the club that had never truly known the riches. It seemed like the definite way forward with the underlying promise that this new structure in place would solidify the club’s drive to achieve newer heights every day on the field. Marry this idea with Pep Guardiola’s golden spell at Barça and in theory, it all makes sense. Kindly emphasize on ‘in theory’ while reading.

Barcelona’s motto was emblematic of their image across the world: ‘Més Qué Un Club’ (More than a club) as a proper footballing institution that offered an education about the game that you can only soak up on a special patch of Catalan soil. With the club donning their Blaugrana kits with UNICEF as their main sponsor who didn’t bring much to the club in terms of funds, what they did do was donate whatever bonuses came their way to children’s welfare.

The good ol’ days

Rosell’s first change at the helm at Barcelona was to sign a deal with Qatar Airways to become their primary sponsor; this wasn’t received well by culés and socis(voters). To resolve this issue, the club’s primary sponsor was switched to Qatar Foundation, a non-profit venture by the Qatar Luxury Group, a subsidiary of Qatar Airways. Slowly but surely however, the club started to move away from its roots.

This was disliked by one man in particular- Pep Guardiola who had seen the club under the influence of legendary manager, Johan Cruyff. Much like his mentor Cruyff, Pep also believed that the club should strongly look at and assess the talents at La Masia to strengthen the team. However, Rosell and the current Man City tactician had different outlooks towards the future of the club and the long-drawn saga ended with the sextuple-winning coach resigning. The kings of Catalan shifted their focus more towards the economic side of things. Rosell’s time however was cut short after allegations of misallocation of funds from Neymar’s €88 million transfer from Santos. In 2017, the Spanish politician was sentenced to a non-bailable 6-year prison sentence and the presidential term was transferred to his second in command, Josep Maria Bartomeu.

Bartomeu wasn’t welcomed warmly by the Camp Nou faithful, however, the socis were quite happy with the extra cash flowing through their pockets to put things bluntly. With opposition only from Agusti Benedito for the presidency, Rosell’s right-hand man was the clear-cut winner right from the start.

Bartomeu’s reign had a successful beginning as Barcelona went on to win their 2nd ever treble in Bartomeu’s first full season. However, things were only headed down south from thereon. His constant disapproval of young talent being given regular game time caused a rift with the-then manager Luis Enrique. Lucho wanted to give bigger roles to youth players like Carles Aleña and Sergi Samper but Bartomeu declined as fielding the stars every game was what brought the extra money in as sponsors had clauses inserted catered towards the big boys playing. You don’t even have to be a culé to understand how toxic this and is the antithesis of the very philosophy that made Barcelona the footballing powerhouse they’re hailed as across every corner of the planet.

In 2019, whispers from within the dressing room started to emerge that were supposed to be internal. The players felt someone from the management was leaking stories to the press in order to destabilize the players who were starting to speak out against the management. Late in 2019, an investigation into Bartomeu revealed some secret transactions between the president and social media marketing company, ‘I3 Ventures’. It was suggested that I3 Ventures had been hired to publish stories that damaged the image of several players and ex-players after they had criticized Bartomeu. The club issued a statement on admitting having hired I3Ventures but stringently denying that this appointment had any link to the social media accounts that had dished out the negative press about Messi, Piqué and Guardiola among others.

Back to the present, speculation has suggested that Messi was fuming about the fact that the talks that he’d had with the new boss, Ronald Koeman about the club were leaked to the press. If the greatest humiliation in not just Barcelona’s but Champions League history in Bayern’s bludgeoning of the club in an 8-2 battering wasn’t enough, another key factor to the decision that has effective broken the internet is down to how his close friend, teammate, and Barcelona legend, Luis Suárez has been treated, considering the Uruguayan’s contract looked set to be terminated.

A shocking lack of squad planning

After Barcelona’s famous 4-0 capitulation to Paris Saint-Germain in 2016, Lucho decided to call it quits. Bartomeu yet again had a major call to make as he chose Athletic Bilbao’s Ernesto Valverde to take over the reins. As it turned out, Neymar also followed Enrique out of the club, making a world-record €222 million move to PSG. While the club had spent €618.5 million after the Brazilian’s departure, the poor management and visionless board wasted almost every single penny of these funds on failed signings.

Although this huge chunk was spent to replace Neymar, the club was in continue to look for someone who matches their former stalwart- a prolific right-footed, left-winger who could run in behind defenses as Suárez has lost his pace while Messi plays a much deeper role. Ousmane Dembélé was supposed to be the sure shot bet to take over the Neymar role in the MSN trio after they had splashed €120 million on the rapid Frenchman. However, the former Dortmund winger has been extremely unlucky with major injuries. After Barça had no one to deputize for Dembélé, they decided to go for Liverpool’s Coutinho in the January of 2018 with an enormous €145 million splurge on the Brazilian.

Coutinho had a very good start to his career at the Camp Nou, but an extremely poor 2019/20 season meant he would be eventually loaned to Bayern Munich for the 2019/20 season.

And as they say, the rest is history

Therefore, rumors of bringing Neymar back was all over the news before the season and the Champions League. Putting aside the €120 million spent on Antoine Griezmann, the club’s investment went down the drain on overpriced players that failed to deliver like André Gomes, Yerry Mina, Lucas Digne, Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan, which were never needed. Even though Dani Alves left the club in the summer of 2016, the club hasn’t yet been able to find a suitable replacement for the Brazilian. Nélson Semedo and Sergi Roberto are Barcelona’s first-choice right-backs but they’re far from being anywhere near first team quality. If you don’t believe this, roll the Alphonso Davies clip.

While Semedo is better defensively, Roberto is better offensively. No coach has yet been able to be content with their right-back ever since Alves’ exit much like in several other roles which speaks volumes about Barcelona’s recruitment policy. To bring this back to Messi, does the greatest player of all time deserve this? Through the constant magic he conjures out of nowhere, it’s an absolute shame that the club’s board haven’t lived up to their promises and blindsided a man that is the very testament of selfless genius on the football pitch.

To take this argument and fully drive it home, in Barcelona’s 120-year history, their line-up against Bayern Munich in a Champions League quarter-final was their oldest, with an average age of 29 years and 329 days. Make of that what you will.

The definition of a one-man team

Lionel Messi has been Barcelona’s talisman, the superhero that almost habitually saves the day ever since he stepped onto the Camp Nou pitch with the No. 10 on his back. But he has always had the backing from his teammates, right up until Neymar left his side in the summer of 2017. Post-Neymar, it’s been a story of one man dragging the team through everything, only for the club to fail him when it’s time to hop the last couple of hurdles.

Barcelona’s Champions League debacle has reached its third year. It started with an unlikely loss against Roma after being 4-1 up in the first leg via two own-goals, courtesy of the Argentine causing mayhem. The second leg saw Messi create two chances which were squandered by Suárez. The same was the case in 2018/19 against Liverpool as Barcelona took a 3-goal lead at home via some La Pulga magic as he scored twice and created 2 big chances; however, they bottled it yet again away from home, losing 4-0 at Anfield. Lionel created two chances in the first half which would have killed the game but the chances were missed by Suarez and Alba each. The same, but worse happened in Lisbon as the Argentine created two delicious free headers for Lenglet and Busquets when the game was drawn at 1-1, however both of them missed their chances and that was that. This has been the theme of the Catalans’ league campaign as well.

Their suicidal displays in the Champions League have become a cycle so vicious and if there’s a player undeserving of bearing the brunt of a club that is possibly the most poorly run in Europe, it has to be Messi. And at this point, any decision he makes is heartbreakingly understandable.

It seems the ‘GOAT’ has had enough of the club’s politics and its inability to help him through to silverware. Whether Messi leaves or not is a question that is yet to be answered, but it’s a well-known fact that he is tired. If indeed he is on his way out, Barcelona’s board, old or new will not just have a major rebuild, but blood on their hands.

This was a bond meant to be unbreakable and the club that made Messi are also breaking his spirit. Only time will tell what transpires but Barcelona owe Lionel Messi way more than one for what’s been an embarrassing attempt at building a business, running a football club or whatever the higher-ups were tasked to do after Laporta bid farewell.

City or PSG is the question on everyone’s minds and lips. Over to you, Leo.

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