Lionel Messi and Barca approach a fork in the road

BARCELONA fans may be in denial and hoping Lionel Messi stays with the club, but the wheels are already in motion and there will be a host of Messi discussions going on in the boardrooms of the world’s biggest – and not so biggest – clubs.

It looks like the end of an era. It had to come sometime – he’s 33, after all – and it was inevitable that it might finish rather scruffily. Barcelona are a club in crisis at the moment, financially, politically, physically and emotionally. They lost their La Liga title and were humiliated in the UEFA Champions League by Bayern Munich. That night in Lisbon may go down in history as the fall of an empire.

There is a scene in The Godfather movie when newly-installed Don, Michael Corleone, asks Mo Greene if he can buy him out. In a fit of anger, Greene storms out and the hapless Fredo admonishes Michael and tells him he should not talk that way to guys like Mo Greene. You can imagine the interaction between Ronald Koeman and Messi was a little like that when the new Barca coach told the iconic Argentinian, “Your privileges here are over”. That may well have been the equivalent of a tiger spraying his patch, but it may also have been the clincher for Messi.

Determined

Messi was already unhappy about his pal, Luis Suarez, being told he can go elsewhere and he let Koeman know he felt more out than in. It does sound like there may be no way of going back.

According to Spanish football expert, Guillem Balague, Messi has no intention of undergoing pre-season tests and training with Koeman as coach. “Messi not only wants to leave, he is thinking of where he should go next. He doesn’t see himself at Barcelona anymore.”

In some ways, Messi has to be allowed to go, even though Barca feel he hasn’t the right to terminate his contract and point to the € 700 million buyout clause in the player’s contract. If Barca are in fact more than a club, they cannot be dictated to by a player even if he is the world’s best. The institution should be bigger than its employees and should refrain from entering into open combat with players. Marca declared “it’s war” in describing the situation. A poll run by the Spanish newspaper revealed that around 60% of Barca’s fans do not believe Messi has another club in mind.

Others disagree. Marca added that Inter Milan might be a logical destination – Messi’s father has just bought a house in one of the city’s best locations. Manchester City and the Guardiola connection is also seen as a possible choice. France’s L’Equipe, headlining with “Adios”, ruled-out any possible Paris Saint-Germain bid.

Talk Sport, meanwhile, predicts Messi will about-turn and sign a new three-year contract with the club. Guillem Balague believes this is not a game of negotiation or a power battle. Spain’s AS agrees: “Messi’s decision will be final.”

This is all very grim news for Barca’s current president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, who may or may not be about to resign. Fans gathered outside the club’s headquarters after Messi’s announcement, which was sent by “certified letter”, a Burofax.

Necessary?

Could it be that Barca actually need Messi to leave in order to fund a complete overhaul of its playing resources? The club has got some financial problems although Barca remain one of the world’s richest football institutions. After the crushing defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich, the club quickly disposed of their coach, Quique Setien and with Koeman’s arrival, a number of players were effectively nudged toward the exit, including Ivan Rakitic, Aturo Vidal, Samuel Umtiti and Suarez.

What does the future hold for Messi and Barcelona? Messi’s career will wind-down over the next couple of years although at the moment, he shows little sign of slowing-up. Given La Liga and the Premier are considered to be high intensity and more demanding than the other members of the big five leagues, it would not be a surprise if he has a similar approach to Cristiano Ronaldo. However, the Premier may be the only league that could realistically afford the fee if indeed there is a fee involved. The battle over his contract may become an ugly, protracted battle of wits that will probably only benefit lawyers in the Catalan capital. If that’s the case, it will be an unfortunate finale for both the player and club. As for Barcelona, it will take a while to rebuild their playing resources and also for Koeman to be truly successful – if he can endure such a political atmosphere.

One of the candidates for the club’s presidency, Victor Font, has warned that Barca could become the new AC Milan or Manchester United. In other words, old masters left behind by the changing football paradigm. That’s unlikely, but the club has to find its direction soon in order to remain competitive in Europe. With or without Messi.

Sources: BBC, AS, Marca, Guardian, Sportkeeda, Talksport.

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