After it was officially announced on Tuesday evening that Lionel Messi has told Barcelona he wants to be released from his contract, it’s been the only thing anyone has cared about in the news.
Messi is the club’s top goalscorer ever with more goals than the 3 players directly below him on the list combined, while also being second in the list of the club’s all-time appearance makers only behind Xavi.
But following continuous fall-outs with the board and the first trophyless season at the club since 2007, Messi has decided enough is enough and he wants to experience something new.
The player has options for his future, not least because he’s the greatest player of all-time but because he’s still more than good enough to effect the biggest games. He became just the second player since Opta records began to record a 20+ goal & 20+ assist league campaign after Thierry Henry in 2002/03 last season, yet it wasn’t enough to lead this Barça side to any trophies.
But regardless of who you support, unless it’s Barcelona, him moving is a good thing. Nobody cares about the Ronaldo vs Messi debates anymore, so it’s nothing to do with that. It’s more to do with the fact that him leaving will be a huge kick up the backside for one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the history of the sport.
Since the Messi era began in Catalunya, the club have clung to his coattails and relied upon him to such an extent that them spending crazy amounts of money on players has almost been overlooked. His brilliance means he’s always the star of the show, regardless of if he was sharing the pitch with Neymar and Luis Suarez or Munir El Haddadi and Cristian Tello.
Signings like Phillipe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele, Frenkie De Jong in recent years have struggled but because of Messi it’s not been noted. He saved them time and time again and covered up their blemishes because they kept winning. But the Messi era had to end at some point.
Whether that was through him retiring in three, four, five years time or leaving like he plans to now, the club needed to plan for it. They haven’t. It’s been said that the club would suffer a Milan-like decade following his departure, simply because of the lack of planning.
His leaving is down to the board being inept and inadequate at their jobs, in particular Josep Maria Bartomeu. The final straw was reportedly a “cold” phone call from new manager Ronald Koeman to Luis Suarez to inform him that he wouldn’t be part of the squad next season. Messi took offence since Suarez is one of his best friends, but the fact Suarez is third on the club’s all-time top scorer charts after just six years at the club means he’s probably owed a bit of respect.
Messi obviously loves Barcelona. His actions when they lose and win are clear evidence of this. While he’s putting himself first on this occasion, at 33 years old with the achievements and accolades he has he deserves too. But it’s his love for Barcelona that is making him do it. He wants the club to be secure after he goes and if leaving now means that happens quicker, then so be it.
He will leave a legend and fans seemingly understand his decision, since they stormed the Camp Nou offices to protest against the board as soon as the decision was made public. Club legend Carles Puyol tweeted his approval of the decision and with Pique also stating following the 8-2 defeat to Bayern that he’d happily leave too if the club felt that it’s what was needed, they all understand that Messi is doing the right thing not only for himself, but for Barcelona.
We need to enjoy the final years of this genius’ career regardless of where it is. We also need to see Barcelona get back on their feet as a club without Messi, because a powerhouse football club shouldn’t be so reliant. They can learn a lot from rivals Real Madrid, who went from losing Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018 to dethroning Barcelona as La Liga champions in 2020 with a few bumps in between.
Barcelona without Messi will be strange but they were around for long before and will be for long after the little Argentine. It’s time they act like they know it’s FC Barcelona and not Messi FC.