In the end, the thought of Lionel Messi in anything other than blaugrana was indeed incomprehensible and it will stay that way for at least a bit longer. The transfer saga that looked set to define not only the summer window, but an entire era of European football ultimately only ended up defining a couple weeks. In that time, though, every possible route Messi could potentially take was pondered out loud, very loudly.
For the time being at least, though, Messi has decided to stand still. Always one for doing his talking on the football pitch, the Argentine has more recently mastered the art of talking without actually saying anything at all. This time, through an interview with Goal, Messi took on the responsibility himself to confirm he will remain a Barcelona player and to lay bare his grievances.
"I told the president [I wanted to leave] and, well, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay and in the end he did not keep his word," Messi said. "I always said I wanted to end here and I always said I wanted to stay here. That I wanted a winning project and to win titles with the club, to continue expanding the legend of Barcelona. And the truth is that there has been no project or anything for a long time, they juggle and cover holes as things go by."
Messi's disgruntlement with Barcelona president Josep Bartomeu and his running of the club has been apparent for some time, but this particular episode must act as a watershed. If the events of the last two weeks don’t force Barca to look inwards and make changes, they will be destined to experience the same drama next summer when Messi will be out of contract and free to leave without the threat of any court action.
This must be the wake up call for a rebuild. Bartomeu might be past the point of no return in terms of his toxicity as Barcelona president, particularly after this latest public power tussle with Messi, but a cultural overhaul is required before a single vote is cast otherwise Victor Font, Joan Laporta or whoever wins in the next presidential election will find themselves engulfed by all the political factors that caused so much damage before them.
Messi’s U-turn will only add to the sense that Barcelona are merely running on the spot until they can start taking meaningful steps forward with a new president at the helm. Now, the 33-year-old can now observe how things unfold at the Camp Nou over the next 12 months before making a call on whether to stay put, perhaps with his former team-mate and close friend Xavi Hernandez as head coach following a regime change, or leave.
Lionel Messi and Xavi
Image credit: Reuters
Perhaps the best Barcelona can hope for in the present circumstances is for a clearing of the trees before new seeds are sown. This process may have already started, with Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal believed to be on the brink of moves to Juventus and Inter respectively. A few more could be moved on before the transfer window closes.
The relationship between Ronald Koeman and Messi will almost certainly require some mending. Reports at the time described a tense meeting between the two figures on the Dutchman’s first day as Barcelona boss during which Messi was told he would no longer receive special treatment.
Koeman’s authority has been compromised by what has unfolded over the past two weeks, and ultimately by the decision Messi has made to stay. The Argentine has proven, as if it was ever in any doubt, who the most powerful figure at the Camp Nou is at this moment in time and it’s certainly not the man in the dugout.
Wherever possible, Messi and all concerned at Barcelona must find a way to use the events of the past few weeks, and of the past few years, to point the club in the right direction again. The true intent of Messi’s actions of this summer may never be known (did he really envisage himself signing for another club?), but the reasons why he was pushed into such a public act of rebellion must be considered. Otherwise Barca will be doomed to repeat the cycle all over again.