The Messi Transfer Saga 2020
As Lionel Messi seems set to resume training at FC Barcelona and stay for another year (atleast), here’s a rundown of factors that could have led to the shocking decision by the Argentine.
Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini, one of the greatest footballers of all time shocked not just the world of football but the entire planet when he announced his desire to leave the club he has spent all of his professional career in. This announcement came while fans were still recovering from the 8–2 defeat against Bayern Munich in Lisbon, which saw FC Barcelona get knocked out of the Champions League for the fifth successive season. The truth is, things haven’t been right at Barcelona for a long time.
Champions League Failures
“It did not come because of the Champions League result against Bayern, no — I had been thinking about the decision for a long time. — Messi speaking to GOAL.com
FC Barcelona have failed to win the Champions League, Europe’s prestigious club competition since last lifting it in 2015. Since completing an historic treble under Luis Enrique, Messi hasn’t tasted European glory in five years with humiliating defeats against Atletico, Juventus, Roma, Liverpool and Bayern dimming his illustrious career since then. In the same time span, Messi’s eternal career rival Cristiano Ronaldo has managed to add 3 Champions League titles under his belt with FC Barcelona’s rivals Real Madrid. A player of Messi’s stature who hasn’t won a Champions League since he was 28 clearly put doubts in his mind whether Barca is the right place for him to continue and aim for European success.
“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, speaking to GOAL.com
For a long time now, FC Barcelona has been criticized for it’s transfers. Since letting Neymar leave in 2017 for a world record fee of €222M, FC Barcelona has tried to rebuild a sporting project but have made signings which haven’t made sense or haven’t really lived up to their potential. Their first signing post Neymar - Ousmane Dembele who was the club’s RECORD signing at the time has been at the club for three years now but has spent most of his time on the sidelines due to his disastrous injury record. Their next big signing Philippe Coutinho — who then became the club’s MOST expensive signing ever — shone initially but then quickly lost his rhythm after being forced by Ernesto Valverde to play out of position. He was then loaned out at the start of the 2019 season to FC Bayern Munich, where he won the treble and contributed 2 goals and an assist against Barcelona when he faced them in Lisbon. In the same window that they loaned out Coutinho they brought in French starlet Antoine Griezmann, the club’s THIRD expensive signing who failed to find his feet in his first season, partly due to the reason that he occupies the same position on the field as Messi. The failure in finding a satisfying replacement for Neymar as well as making illogical signings that either do not fit the system or signings for a position that’s already filled are sure to have frustrated Messi at some point.
Old Boys Club
“I believed that the club needed more young players, new players and I thought my time in Barcelona was over” — Messi, speaking to GOAL.com
The average age of the team that played the 8–2 against FC Bayern was a staggering 29 years and 329 days, the oldest they’ve ever fielded in a Champions League game. With most of the starting line up past their prime and unable to outpace the Bayern players, it was a cakewalk for the opposition to score four goals in each half. While pacey youngsters like Riqui Puig and Ansu Fati were rotting on the subsitutes bench, the on-field Barca players could not match the intensity required of them in the game and as a result conceded easy goals.
Messi, 33 is the only 30+ player who is still not in a visible decline and can continue to perform at the top level for a few more years. As for the others, they should have been shipped out of the club a few years ago to bring in more youth or they should have been benched and given a substitute role.
Suarez, Pique, Busquets, Alba, Vidal are all past their prime and should leave the club like Rakitic did or accept a minimal role on the bench especially considering the talented youth that Barca has in it’s arsenal.
“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, speaking to GOAL.com
If FC Barcelona was a television drama, it’s president Josep Maria Bartomeu would be the primary antagonist. Despite delivering a treble in his first year in charge of Barca’s board, he has not made right decisions in the years following that and has led the club into debt. Failure to sack Ernesto Valverde after two consecutive Champions League defeats, then sacking him mid-season destabilizing the team, as well as taking horrible calls in transfer windows are just a few of the poor decisions he’s made over his term.
If reports are to be believed, Paris Saint-Germain offered around €80M for Rakitic before the World Cup, but they refused to sell him and he has consistently underperformed since then. A report also claimed that Bayern left-back Alphonso Davies was offered to Barca, but Bartomeu didn’t sign him because he was “Canadian”. There are many such reports from various news outlets highlighting Bartomeu’s poor management of transfers at Barca. Despite all this, he still refuses to resign and intends to see out his term.
PS - During this saga he claimed he would resign if Messi publicly came out and said that he would stay at Barca, so the upcoming few weeks would be crucial as Barca fans wait to see if Bartomeu will keep his word.
The Future for Messi
Even though Messi has claimed many times that he would finish his career at Barcelona, this saga has made it clear that it might not be the case. Since Messi’s contract runs out in 2021 and it doesn’t look like he’ll be renewing, he can start negotiations with other clubs as early as 1 January 2021 and potentially leave for no fee next summer. Under the new management of Barca legend Ronald Koeman and a new president next year after the elections in March, Messi could just about change his mind and decide to stay.
If not, Manchester City looks to be his favoured destination. As he enters into the twilight of his career, this could be his final chance to win more trophies and reunite with the man that ignited his career, the Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola. If he renews his contract and Barca fail to get back to winning ways, it would be a terrible ending to the sport’s greatest showman and his extraordinary career.