Lionel Messi: Barcelona rebuild begins with his decision to stay or leave. Barcelona were beaten, humbled and humiliated by Bayern Munich on Friday, on the wrong side of an 8-2 demolition job in the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.
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As expected, the Spanish press — and pundits all across the world, for that matter — have torn into Barca for every imaginable reason, from the board’s disturbing negligence to the players’ lack of desire and effort.
So, what’s a realistic plan to “fix” Barcelona and restoring one of the world’s iconic clubs to its former greatness? Everyone wants to say “blow it all up, fire everyone and start over,” but the real world doesn’t work like that. What can be done, and on what timeline can Barca reasonably expect to be formidable competition for the likes of Bayern once again?
[ LIONEL MESSI: Barcelona a ‘disaster’; Bayern react after 10-goal stunner ]
This is part 1, focusing solely on Lionel Messi, because the greatest player of all time is worthy of his own discussion, and also because it’s such a complex decision with layer upon layer of logic pulling him in every direction. Part 2, focusing on the rest of Barca’s issues — not the least of which are an aging squad and an incompetent board making all of the decisions — will be posted later on Saturday.
What should Messi do?
This question comes first beacuse 1) it’s the most interesting and polarizing, but also 2) it’s the only one that’s not actually for the Barca board to decide. Sure, they could flat out refuse to sell Messi no matter the money offered, enrage the greatest player of all time, ruin the fairytale story of their time together and turn every last one of their fans against them, but they’re not going to do that, right? Right? On second thought, they might just do that, but more on the board in part 2.
Messi will have options — in truth, Messi has always had options, but his first, second and third priorities always seemed to be furthering his legacy at Barca — should he decide it’s an untenable situation and he would be better suited seeing out the final few years of his historic career somewhere that presents him an opportunity to win. It’s simply down to whether or not he’s had enough of the chaos at Barcelona and he wants to exercise those options.
The two questions Messi must ask himself and the Barca board are 1) is Barca worth it, assuming things can be fixed rather quickly? The obvious answer for Messi: yes; 2) what’s the timeline for such a thing? (Spoiler alert: it’s not going to be a quick fix) Messi is no spring chicken — he turned 33 back in June, and while he has remained highly productive through his early 30s and now to the brink of his mid-30s, his day of reckoning with Father Time will undeniably come.
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Aside from “stay at Barcelona and hope things get better,” which he’s been doing for a few years now, what are Messi’s options?
Manchester City is an obvious potential landing spot, given they have the money to move mountains and Messi is more than a little familiar with Pep Guardiola. Money wouldn’t be an issue at PSG either, and Messi’s arrival would do more to legitimize their project than anywhere else he could go, but that’s all to PSG’s benefit — what does Messi stand to gain, aside from more money, from a move to Ligue 1? Very little, if anything at all. Beyond those two, there’s not another club in Europe that meets both those financial and Champions League-contending criteria. Both sides can — and perhaps will — put together an enticing offer, but do their pros outweigh the cons of staying at Barca? At this point, even Messi himself probably doesn’t know the answer to that question.
Major League Soccer would probably offer Messi his franchise and name it after him to get him there, but if Messi is willing to see out his final days in MLS — at least at this point — he’s probably not as concerned about his individual legacy as previously believed, so he would more than likely stick it out at Barca instead. The same would, likely, go for China and the Middle East.
One final point on Messi potentially leaving Barca: he has been ever-present in our live, wearing a blue and red shirt, for the last 15 years-plus — he is the only player who could even be considered as bigger than Barcelona — so it seems inconceivable and borderline blasphemy that he could ever leave, right up until the moment he does. It will happen quickly and seemingly out of nowhere, whether it’s this summer or five years from now. And it will be a tragically sad day in Catalonia.