Football news - Opinion: Lionel Messi’s 'end' at Barcelona is fittingly shambolic for a club that has lost its way
The greatest player in the history of Barcelona is leaving them. With no fanfare, with little more than a whimper. It's sad and almost unbelievable, writes Pete Sharland, who argues that is just the latest mis-step from a once great club that has badly lost its way and what it stands for in the past few years.
Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona shows his dejection during the La Liga Santander match between FC Barcelona and RC Celta at Camp Nou on May 16, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain
This is not how it’s meant to be. This is not just any ordinary player. And this isn’t meant to be any ordinary club.
This is Barcelona. The club of Cruyff, Ronaldinho and Guardiola. It’s the club that made us fall in love with football, and set a new standard of dominance.
And their heart and soul was an awkward little kid from Rosario, who grew up to be possibly the greatest we’ve ever seen kick a ball.
It was the perfect match, a glorious harmonisation of the joy of football.
Ten La Liga titles. Seven Copa del Reys. Four Champions League. 672 goals. Six Ballon d’Ors. Countless memories.
And this tweet is the best you can do to say goodbye?
It’s pathetic. The end of Messi’s time at Barcelona should be a fanfare. A celebration of what was an incredible journey. There should be videos with his former team-mates and managers telling stories, tweets that show all of his achievements, emotional montages which include early footage of him in the youth team. (One such video did come later that evening which might put pay to end theories about this being a pressure tactic)
But it just feels so empty. Technically it didn’t even end today. Messi has been a free agent since July 1; a result of the club being unable to manage their playing squad or finances properly. It feels so hard to really process that a lot of people seemed to think that it was a prank, or a bad mistake. Surely this wasn't how it was going to end?
Barcelona’s statement says that there was an agreement between player and club, but they were blocked by La Liga’s financial rules. But there are enough reports out there to make you believe there is more here than meets the eye. Messi was reportedly unimpressed with the summer signings, and particularly frustrated that Argentina team-mate Cristian Romero wasn’t purchased from Atalanta.
It goes back further than this though. Go back through the last few years of Barcelona’s transfer activity and see who inspires you. Frenkie De Jong? Is that it perhaps? It’s a damning indictment on a club that was never perfect in the transfer market, but at least appeared to have a plan.
A plan is certainly something Josep Maria Bartomeu never seemed to have. The former Barcelona president will most likely see his tenure go down as one of the worst, if not the worst, in the club’s history. Bartomeu inherited a club that was at the pinnacle of the sport and in his first 18 months watched as the team won a historic treble under Luis Enrique.
Lionel Messi dans les bras de Luis Enrique
Image credit: Getty Images
But since then? Barcelona are a shadow of their former selves. The transfers have been poor, they’ve started losing out on some of the best young Spanish talent to arch-rivals Real Madrid who, by the way, have won three Champions Leagues since Bartomeu arrived. La Masia has become a wasteland, with players leaving to join other European rivals and few youngsters coming through to the first team.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, all the while the club was being grossly mismanaged from a financial standpoint. Transfers were conducted in amateurish fashion, with Barca regularly wildly overpaying for players who were a B+ at best. That financial mess is why they couldn’t sign Messi to a new deal.
There’s more. The club’s managerial hiring process after Luis Enrique was akin to a drunk playing darts. Ernesto Valverde was uninspiring, yet surprising solid, but was dispensed when Barcelona felt they could lure legendary midfield Xavi back to the Camp Nou. Spoiler alert, they couldn’t. That led to the hastened appointment of Quique Setien, who was not ready for such a big job. Last summer came Ronald Koeman, who was also appointed after a chase for Xavi. The same Xavi who they tried to get again this summer but who (because he clearly has a brain) said no once again.
Xavi - Al-Sadd SC
Image credit: Getty Images
Oh and don’t forget about the time that time when the club hired a social media company to create burner accounts that would slam club legends like Messi and Gerard Pique, as well as other figures who didn’t support the board. That is a real life thing that actually happened. It beggars belief.
Because don’t be mistaken. This is not what Messi wants. Unlike his great counterpart Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi has never spoken about wanting to challenge himself in other countries. He has seemed very content to be a one-club man, possibly with an emotional year at Newell’s Old Boys. Set every record in Barcelona and Spain and maybe help the club he loves to close the gap between themselves and Real in terms of European cups.
He won’t have that chance. And it is entirely down to the club. The staggering level of incompetence has driven their greatest ever player to seek pastures new. There will be nothing weirder in football than seeing Messi in the sky blue of Manchester City or blue, red and white of PSG, but that is a reality we will all have to come to terms with.
And Barcelona did it. They had a generational player. A player who made people feel things you shouldn’t feel watching football. A player who made the most ardent sceptics fall in love with football. A player who reminded you of the feeling you had when as a kid you played in the garden, streets or fields with your mates. Watching Messi play football was not as simple as a pastime or a hobby, it was a true experience, something you always remember.
Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates scoring his side's first goal during the La Liga Santander match between FC Barcelona and Getafe CF
Image credit: Getty Images
Over the coming weeks and months there will be tributes. There will be messages of love and support coming from the club. In the future years there will be honours such as statues or the naming of a stand or training ground.
But you know what the worst part about this is? Messi won’t get to say goodbye to the fans who adore him as he adores them. La Liga is returning to 40% capacity and you have to imagine it wouldn’t be hard to get permission from the officials to have that capacity (or more if deemed safe) for a special one-off friendly against a team like Newell’s or Ajax. It could have been the perfect farewell, if there had to even be one.
Perhaps that will come if Messi waits on signing a contract elsewhere. Perhaps even there’s a small chance that an agreement is made where Messi massively drops his wages for one more year at Barcelona. But why would he? Just to say goodbye? Because this team is far from a favourite for the Champions League. Heck they’re not even favourites for La Liga, even with him.
Maybe this is a stance to put pressure on the league and maybe they will crack and loosen their rules to avoid losing their most marketable player after losing their other two most marketable players in recent years. But even if that’s so, how can it be that a club like Barcelona has to resort to something like that?
To paraphrase the old parable: To lose Luis Suarez is careless, to lose Lionel Messi is a complete and utter shit-show.