That was a nail-biting climax for football lovers in this ‘life-match’ between the legend Lionel Messi and his decision to leave his home Barcelona. After a lot of talks and meetings, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner decided to stay with his home league; but spectators say that nothing remains the same anymore.
It was apparent that Messi wanted to leave Barcelona but its president Josep Maria Bartomeu wouldn’t leave him and Messi could not face the ensuing battles in the court over his contract with Barca. Instead, against his will, he must play out the final year of his deal with Barcelona, the club of his life since moving to the Catalan capital from Rosario as a teenager.
Now that Messi stays, every Barca fan and non-fan asks, what next? For Barcelona as a club which lives in Messi’s image? For the tainted chief Bartomeu? The new coach Ronald Koeman? The misfits Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann?
Starting with Messi, the first steps are small and obvious. He must take his PCR test for corona virus, and then make his return to training. Messi did not attend the testing last Sunday, nor the first sessions under Koeman this week, in the belief that he was out of the Camp Nou madhouse.
He must speak to his team-mates, as the club captain, explaining his attempted departure, and confirming his commitment for this season. “He’s still in the group chat,” said Frenkie de Jong tentatively earlier in the week, unsure if Messi would still be a Barcelona player when he returned from international duty with the Netherlands.
There may come a time when Messi must speak face to face with Bartomeu in the coming weeks, which will be an awkward encounter. The president does not like confrontations, so any painful exchanges will at least be brief.
Messi had accused Bartomeu of going back on his word about letting him go, and criticized a regime which has squandered hundreds of millions of euros on inadequate players. “The truth is that there has been no project or anything for a long time, they juggle everything and plug holes as they go along,” said Messi.
He will find a different dressing room when he returns to training, because the clear-out has begun. Ivan Rakitic is already a Sevilla player, his dear friend and neighbour Luis Suarez, whom he played padel with on Thursday afternoon, has been strongly linked to Juventus, while Arturo Vidal is being ushered out of the door too.
Meanwhile, Messi told the media in an interview after the decision to stay with Barca, “I will continue at Barca and my attitude will not change no matter how much I have wanted to go.”
“I will do my best. I always want to win, I’m competitive and I don’t like to lose anything. I always want the best for the club, for the dressing room and for myself.” That’s the one quote from the interview that Barcelona’s official channels recognized, posting it under a photo of Messi in the new shirt.
Messi must put his thoughts of leaving aside and give everything he’s got again this season. At least he will be able to hear the applause he will get at stadiums around the country in his farewell year, as and when fans are allowed back into stadiums.
If this is indeed his final year, he can agree a deal with clubs like Manchester City, Inter or Paris Saint-Germain as soon as January, with club elections set for next March. Or else, when Bartomeu goes, the next president might convince Messi to stay.