Following on from FC Barcelona’s third successive embarrassing exit from the Champions League in the form of an 8-2 defeat by Bayern Munich, the unthinkable has happened. Lionel Messi, the club’s all time top scorer and greatest ever player, has told the club that he wishes to leave this summer.
He has now reached two decades at the club after signing for them at the age of 13, but after many years of trophy-laden glory, Barcelona’s boardroom nightmare and miserable decline have taken their toll on their talisman as he looks for pastures new.
Barcelona have in truth been on a downwards trend ever since their treble winning season in 2014/15 with Messi, Neymar and Suarez all guns blazing, and it has in fact been mainly just because of the presence of Messi in the side that they have managed to sweep many of their underlying issues under the carpet.
And whilst Messi has regularly bailed his side out of trouble, consistent mismanagement by the board of directors and club president Josep Maria Bartomeu has put Barcelona in their worst position in years; they have lost their identity and consistent high-profile, expensive signings have failed. Phillipe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antoine Griezmann all cost Barcelona significantly more than 100 million euros each and none have even justified a guaranteed place in the starting 11 – Coutinho has even been loaned out and ironically came off the bench for Bayern Munich to score the 7th and 8th goals in their recent humiliation of his parent club, before going on to win the entire tournament, costing Barcelona even more money due to a clause in his contract implicating that Barcelona must pay Liverpool around £5m if Coutinho goes on to win the Champions League.
However, Messi’s request to leave is only the first step in him actually finding a new club. In his contract, Messi is allowed to leave Barcelona for free at the end of every season, but it is officially written in his contract that he was only allowed to leave by June 10th. Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we know that the season in fact finished two months later, so Messi will hope that this means he is still able to leave Barcelona for free. On the contrary, Barcelona will claim that the date by which he was able to leave on a free has passed, meaning that his astonishing buy out clause of 700 million euros would stand. If this was a case, surely no club in the world could afford him.
Still, Messi has made it clear that he wants out of the club, especially after his influential team mate and close friend Luis Suarez was recently told he was surplus to requirements. As a result, it is possible that a legal battle could ensue between club and player and the case could be taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but this seems unlikely as both parties will want this issue to be resolved quickly and easily. Furthermore, one would think that after his 20 years of outstanding service to the club Messi should be somewhat rewarded for his loyalty – he has had many opportunities to leave in the past.
In fact, according to well-respected Spanish journalist Guillem Balague, Messi decided that he wanted to join Manchester City back in 2016, only to then make a u-turn after his first training session back with Barcelona after the off-season. After flirting with a move to England back then, could now be his time to finally prove himself abroad?
At 33, Messi is approaching the twilight of his career, and over the past couple of seasons he has shown signs that he is already well past his peak. However, it’s easy to forget just how good Messi was at his peak and he is still one of the world’s best, as evidenced by the fact that he finished the league season with the most goals (25) and assists (21).
A common criticism of the Argentinian has been that he has never proved himself in another league, whereas his ‘arch nemesis’ Cristiano Ronaldo has excelled in 3 of the top 5 leagues in Europe. Many also say that he wouldn’t be able to perform as well in the Premier League as he does in La Liga, but it is worth noting that Messi has more goals against the Premier League ‘big 6’ than Ronaldo – and we all know which one played Premier League football for six years.
Moreover, whilst he could still light up the Premier League should he join City, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that he would’ve been a guaranteed success in England three years ago as suggestions that he wouldn’t be able to handle the style/physicality of the Premier League are nonsense, but if he joins City now we will not be seeing Lionel Messi in his prime and we should therefore judge his performances accordingly.
There have been reports that Messi has contacted his former manager Pep Guardiola (current Manchester City manager) with regards to a move to the Etihad but nothing has been confirmed. The other realistic possible destinations would be a return to his homeland in Argentina or a move to Italy to play for Internazionale.
In the past Messi has said that he wants to return to the club of his childhood, Newell’s Old Boys, before the end of his career, but the more likely outcome appears to be a move to Inter Milan, a club who feel that they are one step away from overthrowing Juventus’ incredible streak of winning the league 9 times in a row. Signing the best player in the world shouldn’t do their hopes any harm, and the fact that he would save money on tax in Italy could also mean a move to Inter are even more likely as it would be difficult for any club to afford his wages and an Italian club would not have to pay him as much as a club from another country would in order to match his current wages.
Should Messi end up at Inter, we could witness a renewed rivalry between him and Ronaldo as Inter and Juventus go head to head for the Serie A title next season.
Barcelona sporting director Ramon Planes recently insisted that they are trying to convince Messi to stay and that they are aiming to build next season’s team around him, but after embarrassing second leg defeats to Roma and Liverpool followed by their humiliating defeat by Bayern, on top of his falling out with the board, his incredible story with Barcelona is surely about to come to an end.