Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona.
No, really: The legendary club confirmed it.
[ MORE: Why Messi to Man City makes sense ]
This has triggered a wealth of questions and buzz from around the soccer world, and we’ll try to walk you through some of the key points below.
What has Barcelona done?
One of the biggest teams in the world is losing the greatest player on earth, and it’s done so through a mess of its own making.
Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu’s roller coaster few years have included a persistent failure to address a rotting roster kept together by Messi, and now his legacy will likely be the exodus of an entire sport’s GOAT.
Ultimately, Messi’s lone reason to stay would’ve been loyalty and a desire to be a one-club player.
Bartomeu and new Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman were hanging onto that thread but ultimately it does not come as a surprise that Messi just couldn’t stand a rebuild.
Even in Barca’s worst performances of the past few years, all coming in the Champions League, Messi has been the fine art hanging in the chain restaurant.
It started in 2018 with a 3-0 second-leg loss that sent Roma through on away goals, then rolled into a capitulation to Liverpool in which he might as well have been the only Blaugrana on the pitch.
The last straw was an 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich this month, a one-off where even the Argentine looked listless after a busy first hour.
The president called the loss to Bayern “a disaster.” That makes Tuesday’s news the apocalypse.
Now the 33-year-old will bring eye-popping accolades outside of Spain for the first time since he was a 13-year-old at Newell’s Old Boys.
Where will Messi go?
Favorites out of the gate are Manchester City, Inter Milan, and Manchester United, according to reports (We said reports. Stop yelling at us. Loud noises!).
The odds-on favorite is Man City, where Messi would reunite with Pep Guardiola to make the Etihad Stadium set the overwhelming favorites to win any competition they enter. Consider that City produced more chances than any other club in the world but didn’t have the finish. That changes with the best scorer of all-time.
Very few teams have the numbers to make this work. Paris Saint-Germain could do it but would have to sell either Neymar or Kylian Mbappe to do it, and it’s seems unlikely Messi would leave Barcelona for a job that answers none of the cynical, silly, but ever-present critiques lobbed against him as a player to only have played in Spain. This rules out a return home or move to MLS, Qatar, or China, too.
Manchester United has the dough — imagine Messi with Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford, and Paul Pogba — and Chelsea and Liverpool do, too.
Inter Milan is also said to be an option, with the concept of Messi underneath Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez an absolute eye-popper. Plus you know he’d love to waltz into Cristiano Ronaldo’s league and outshine his perceived eternal individual rival.
What should we expect in another league?
This answer is pretty easy: The best player in the world doing best player in the world things.
Advanced stats site WhoScored.com has a pretty handy tool that details the performances of players across the Top Five leagues in Europe.
Messi was again the No. 1 player in the world by a landslide. His 25 goals and 21 assists in league play helped him account for an 8.71 player rating, .58 higher than runner-up Robert Lewandowski, .74 more than third-place Kevin De Bruyne, and nearly a full point better than Cristiano Ronaldo’s fourth-place mark.
- He was named Man of the Match in 22 of Barcelona’s 38 games.
- He was the only player in Europe’s top leagues to record 20-plus goals and assists, and only one player (Jadon Sancho) had 15-plus in both categories.
- Messi’s 25 goals came while passing at 82.6 percent.
- His 5.5 dribbles per game were .5 more than anyone in Europe’s top leagues (Adama Traore). Only six other players completed more than 3 dribbles per game.
- Messi’s 2.7 key passes per game trailed only De Bruyne, Lazio’s Luis Alberto, and Atalanta’s Alejandro Gomez.
- Critics who say he only does it in Spain should also note that he was the second-highest rated player in the Champions League, behind only Lewandowski and comfortably ahead of third-place Neymar and fourth-place Harry Kane (WhoScored).
Even if the 33-year-old takes a step back or somehow has a less attacking role with his new team he’s going to light up a new league.
Messi will instantly make a UCL team into a tournament contender and a UCL contender into a favorite.
Remember: He nearly willed Barcelona to La Liga and put them deep in the UCL despite a long-term injury to Luis Suarez, a terribly unproductive season from Antoine Griezmann, a slow adaptation to Spain from Frenkie de Jong, and a defense that tied for fifth in goals allowed per game.
Where does Barcelona go from here?
This is a major blow to Barcelona coach Koeman and president Bartomeu.
How the latter overcomes this with a presidential election looming in March and a team that, for now, will be expected to drop from La Liga contender to possible top four fringe candidate.
Drawing Barcelona in the Champions League this year now seems manageable. Every team in La Liga that felt the fear factor sink a little due to the club’s miserable 2019-20 will feel they have more than a puncher’s chance.
The Blaugranas have pieces for the future in Frenkie de Jong, Ansu Fati, Pedri, Trincao, and Riqui Puig and Miralem Pjanic will join several experienced mainstays once he’s done with COVID-19 quarantine.
But Barca now has to convince players to join their side in the aftermath of Messi. Imagine the intimidation factor involved in trying to help fill the shoes of the GOAT?
Real Madrid has already built a collection of young talent that sets them up for years of success and Diego Simeone will be licking his lips at the news.
Barcelona hasn’t finished outside La Liga’s top two since 2007-08, the year before Pep Guardiola took the reins. It’s made it past the UCL Round of 16 in every season since 2006-07.
Both those marks look set to update themselves to 2020-21.