While he’s insisted over and over again that he wishes to hang up his boots at FC Barcelona, there seems to be a growing sense that the love affair between the best player in the history of Spanish football, Lionel Messi, and the Blaugrana is coming to a sour and abrupt end.
The issue? Perhaps codependence. It can be argued that, at first, the Argentine needed the club. He was just 13 years old when he joined Barcelona, who, to show the player and his parents how serious they were about developing him in La Masia, took over payments for his hormonal medication. As a child, Messi suffered from a growth disorder, which he very candidly spoke about in 2018. “I injected my legs once every night. At first my parents gave me the injections from when I was eight years old until I learnt. It was a small needle. It did not hurt, it was something routine for me that I had to do, and I did it with normality,” he revealed.
Messi would then go on to not only impress, but drop the jaws of his academy teammates and coaches with the very same style of play we see him play with today. He’d regularly sit his colleagues on their backsides with his trademark shoulder dips and mazy runs, before emulating these skills in the first team years later. Coming into the senior set-up, the Argentine was surrounded by remarkably talented and established footballers. Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto’o, Xavi Hernandez. These guys were now his teammates, and they too were astonished by the promise the little kid from the club’s youth structure was showing. He was fast and tenacious, and although introverted, had the squad’s biggest names gravitate towards him.
He’d eventually become a star himself, a difference-maker, the player his teammates would look to, but not rely upon. With Pep Guardiola in charge from 2008, Messi was the icing on the tallest, sweetest, most chocolaty cake, playing in arguably the best footballing side the world has seen to this day. The team suited him, they played the music and he danced. They knew how and when to use him, and more importantly, he knew how and when to use himself. Guardiola taught Messi the importance of moments, about understanding when to affect a game – this is why you’ll often hear commentators talk about how he can go from being a peripheral figure in a match to turning it on its head. He walks around, quietly observing the field of play, and before you know it, he’s scored a hat-trick. Messi, born with bags of otherworldly, artistic talent, didn’t need Barcelona to be his canvas, but was undoubtedly aided by its perfectly smooth surface.
The relationship, however, has changed, and drastically too. Messi is no longer helped by his colleagues and club like he once was, but has essentially become the guy dragging the famous Barcelona from a rope behind his back. In Spain, they call this ‘Messidepencia’, and no, it’s not used to hail the Argentine, but rather to point to the many cracks shown at the Spanish giants in recent years. Codependence can work both ways, with Barcelona now completely reliant on him. He has looked mentally, physically and emotionally fatigued in recent months, made worse by his very public falling out with sporting director Eric Abidal last week. Not only was he defiant in his stance against Abidal’s implication that the Blaugrana players stopped working for former boss Ernesto Valverde, but there’s been a number of other incidents that suggest he doesn’t care for the club like he did a few years ago. And, I should be clear. Not caring for the club is different from not caring for its fans. Francesco Totti fell out with Roma the club, not Roma the city. Ditto Diego Maradona and Napoli.
Messi has been seen hanging out with Neymar, who was in court with Barcelona just a few months ago, while the captain has also gone on record stating that while he wishes to stay at the Catalans, he also wishes to compete. A rather telling statement. With Barca not winning the UEFA Champions League since 2015, and getting knocked out in the manner that they have over the last few seasons, it’s clear that Messi is talking about the European trophy. The 32-year-old has also publicly spoken of his disappointment over Barcelona not doing their utmost best to re-sign Neymar, more damaging comments that prove this is a player whose relationship with his club has deteriorated.
Worryingly for the club and its supporters, Messi has the power to terminate his deal before the start of every season, given he informs president Josep Maria Bartomeu of his decision by May of each year. Perhaps, which may have only been the case once before, the club’s record goalscorer is seriously considering his future. Will he want to put up with this for another season? The upcoming presidential election might change the way things are run, it might make Messi a happier footballer, but 2021 is still a long way away.
While I don’t think he’d leave, I’d personally love to see him elsewhere, and not because he has anything to prove, but because he deserves better. Barcelona have taken advantage of his loyalty for far too long and now might very well pay the price.