Lionel Messi

Messi's Barcelona divorce is now destined to end badly

After a tumultuous week at the Camp Nou, Barcelona's greatest ever player will remain with the club for at least another season

2:06pm on Saturday 5th September 2020
By
Paul Macdonald

And after all that, he stays.

But this time, it wasn’t for the want of trying to leave. Had Lionel Messi been able to extricate himself for the predicament he finds himself in at Barcelona, he would have done so.

The Argentine is accustomed to making threats; whether it’s with the national team after continued failures in finals, both World Cup and Copa America, or whether it’s after an unsatisfactory season in which no trophies have been won, Messi often centres his dissatisfaction by positing that he will just walk straight out of the door.

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But it never really felt true before. It always felt hollow, a gesture, a thumbs down from the Emperor to the minions around him. Here, though, it does seem like he has had enough and circumstance, rather than overblown love for the club or desire to turn things around, has been the deciding factor.

Messi’s famous burofax message to the club, confirming that he and his lawyers deemed his contract, and release clause, null and void, was a point of action to commence negotiations with president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Messi has less than zero time for the man, and he wanted to step forward and put the custodian in reverse, with the view to agreeing an exit at a fee much reduced from the €700m clause.

Whether Messi and his entourage actually felt the claims could ever hold in court are dubious despite what Messi says. Lawsuits and counter-lawsuits, dirty laundry being aired in court, all out war and the risk that the court could find him liable for the release clause - no-one wanted that conclusion, least of all Messi.

He was relying on Bartomeu sanctioning the transfer and, to use Messi's words 'keep his promise'. But he’s already largely reviled by the Cules and adding the jettisoning of the club’s greatest-ever player wasn’t something he was willing to consider. In truth, Bartomeu and Barca played it well; they didn’t sever ties, didn’t sanction or punish him, and made it clear all along that he was essential to Ronald Koeman’s project.

And so Messi was left at an impasse. A situation of his own making and one he would have known for some time was difficult to remove himself from. And now he’s tied to a squad for another year that he’s already been clear in his opinion about, with a coach who he has already had a public run-in with, after Koeman told him ‘his privileges were over’ in their first meeting.

Koeman has already set out his stall that some of Messi’s dressing room allies - notably Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal - won’t be around for the start of the season. And, really, there’s nothing Messi can do about it.

So, yes, he has announced he is staying and has been contrite in his assessment of the future, but it’s unlikely to be a happy year. Koeman will clear out a squad that desperately needs it but they won’t all of a sudden become a force again overnight. There’s too much surgery required for that to be true.

And, arguably, part of that surgery was Messi himself. Still the world’s finest player, he too often becomes the easy pass for any team-mate willing to pass on the responsibility. And therefore Barca’s numbers without Messi are unthinkable, simply because he’s at the heart of everything. There was a brief sentiment that, maybe, Barca could start again without the encumbrance of facilitating him, and guys like Antoine Griezmann and even Philippe Coutinho could be unleashed as the players they were signed to be.

And all of that is on hold, replaced by another year of Messi under the microscope, will he-won’t he leave next summer - a year older, and potentially less valuable, at 34 - a season of transition that Messi desperately wanted to avoid. He couldn't make it any clearer that he doesn't want to be here. And so this will continue, with verbal barbs throughout the most dysfunctional of campaigns to come.

It’s a conclusion to the Messi saga. But it’s far from the definitive one that Messi hoped it would be and it only gets uglier from here.

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