Note - This podcast was recorded before reports emerged that Lionel Messi has told Barrcelona he wants to leave
With Ben Snowball off on his hols, Game of Opinions regular Pete Sharland jumped into the hosting chair and dragged along Michael Hincks and Graham Ruthven to chat all things Barcelona.
- Lionel Messi’s unique gifts were wasted by Barcelona, why wouldn’t he want to leave?
- Stop the excuses, something has gone terribly wrong at Barcelona
- Ronald Koeman plans Lionel Messi talks – ‘I hope he stays at Barcelona’
The panel started by discussing how Barcelona got into this mess and Hincks believes the board has been coasting on its early successes.
“I think it was a case of resting on their laurels way too early,” Hincks says.
“You had Bartomeu come in in 2014 and what do you do the next year, you go and win the treble. With that team they had it was hard to improve, they didn’t make the greatest moves that summer and it sort of spiralled since then. But it’s spiralled in the sense that they either win La Liga or come a close second, and their journeys in the Champions League are to the quarter-finals, just not any further.”
Bartomeu’s quotes that he thought a change was needed after the team’s defeat to Liverpool in the Champions League was put to Ruthven, who replied: “I think if Bartomeu thinks Anfield was when things needed changing then he wasn’t at the Stadio Olimpico when Barcelona collapsed to Roma.
This has been going on for a long time. If you look at every aspect of the club right now I’m not entirely sure what aspect of it is succeeding right now.
“If, as Victor Font suggested in that interview [to Bleacher Report in 2017], the people at the top are more financial-minded, the financial side of the club is not working either. They sold Arthur to Juventus then got [Miralem] Pjanic in just to balance the books. They did the same with Paulinho before.
“The wage bill is now crippling at the Camp Nou so that isn’t working, the transfer strategy isn’t working,
“Barcelona have never been one to hire big-name managers but when was the last time they had a successful manager? Ernesto Valverde took the club to league titles and Champions League semi-finals but by the standards of Barcelona that’s not good enough. He was never that popular, especially towards the end. Barcelona have needed a reboot for a long time.”
Ronald Koeman and Lionel Messi: The new odd couple?
The man tasked with bringing in that reboot is the club’s former defender, Ronald Koeman, a member of the fabled ‘Dream Team'. However, the panel certainly aren’t convinced about his chances.
“It seems like he’s on a hiding to nothing,” says Sharland.
“[Presidential candidates] Victor Font and Joan Laporta have both said that if they win the elections next year they will look to bring in Xavi Hernandez. Initially [Koeman] didn’t take the job because of Euro 2020 which was postponed. He’s going to probably be out of a job at the end of next season and he will have to sit and watch someone else lead the Netherlands at the Euros.
Ronald Koeman to axe Luis Suarez plus FIVE other Barcelona stars - Euro Papers
“And that’s a good Netherlands team. They might not have won it but they might have gone far. I understand he has this emotional connection to the club but for what? One season depending on how things go. He’s a stop-gap at best and I don’t understand why he’s done it.”
Hincks thinks that it’s the love of the club and time not being on his side that swayed Koeman.
“If Xavi is on the way in 2021 and that’s Victor Font’s big project then when’s his next chance? When’s his next opportunity? If you’re going to get that one year, one season and can it get much worse than this season?
“If you’re Real or Barcelona you’ll get first or second every season unless Atletico push so he’s got a runners-up spot and a Champions League quarter-final to beat. He may win a trophy then he can say, 'Look at that one season I had at the club I love - here you go, Xavi.'”
“He’s a managerial journeyman,” adds Ruthven.
“That word is obviously loaded with bad connotations but that is what he is, he’s had a lot of clubs.
Mes Que Un Crisis: How Barcelona got here and where they go next
“Valencia for example, he won a Copa del Rey but that ended in disaster really.
“They remember him as one of the worst managers that that club has ever had and this is a club that had Gary Neville.”
Top of Koeman’s lengthy to-do list will be sorting the future of superstar Lionel Messi. It’s hard for the panel to see Messi leave the club but what do you do with him to maximise his output?
“Personally I don’t think so,” Hincks says when he asked whether Messi could leave.
‘Lionel Messi will stay for his career' - Josep Bartomeu on Barcelona star and huge wage bill
“But I don’t think it will be Koeman that will convince him. I think it will be the promise of a new regime in March. To jump ship before you truly know where it’s bound is a big ask and it would be a monumental transfer if he were to go.
“Probably the more important part of it is can you actually see Messi going at this point when they’re at their lowest?
“He wouldn’t taint his reputation, he’s obviously the greatest to many but can you imagine leaving Barcelona when they’ve just lost 8-2 to Bayern Munich and that’s your last game in a Barcelona shirt? I just don’t think he will want to tarnish his reputation by going when it couldn’t get any [worse].”
Ruthven thinks, “it’s a difficult question because Messi has always been a player without a position really.
“So it is difficult to build a structure around him. Obviously he brings so much in a productive sense so maybe you build a structure with ten players and let him do what he wants.
“He doesn’t track back all that much and he’s never really been one for that. He spends a lot of time with his hands on his hips now and I think that is to preserve himself.”
Be sure to download and listen to the full podcast to get the full lowdown on the current situation and what is going to happen to the rest of the playing squad.