Is this Messi’s final chapter at Barça?

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

“When I stop enjoying football, I’ll retire” – Lionel Messi, 2012.

Over the years, you look at the players that’ve come and gone, those that gave you joy and pride. You look back and think how it was only like yesterday, they put on their retro-looking jersey for the very first time and stormed the field like wildfire. And for the majority of those players, the ending creeped up over us like a scavenger on a hunt without us even realising it. So let’s take a moment to study the current facts.

When Leo lost the World Cup back in Brazil, following a miserable season and the passing away of Tito Vilanova, we might’ve thought that it couldn’t have gotten worse for La Pulga. But then add a third and a fourth attempt to ultimately fail in the Copa America final and a decision to quit the national team, even leaving aside the utter collapse of the AFA, and the world turns its concern to Messi.

Now– it’s easier to grasp this, understand it, even sympathise with it, than to experience it. Messi was never a man of rash reaction. Quitting the national team was Leo acknowledging that this is the end of his legacy for his country – four finals and no gold. In that moment of depression, a man who had given everything he could for his country just gave up. This isn’t the story of the man who almost made it, this is the story of the established número uno who gave up on trying.

I can fully understand the pain of losing when you’ve been so close this many times. However, to let it decide your legacy when your legs haven’t given up is beyond the pain of failure. totalBarça colleague Savvas Marcou spoke of how the end of Messi’s Argentina career was down to the fact that he lost the joy of playing with the national team. That’s a fair statement, but that only adds to the pressure in Barcelona.

Barcelona’s the city that owns the legacy of Lionel Messi and, for now, no one can take that away from him. Barcelona’s his kingdom as he reigns from his house in Castelldefels. All worship and love him, no matter the circumstances. Heck, they would build him a statue over the Tibidabo resembling Rio’s “The Redeemer” if they didn’t mind the resentment. He’s been in the city for the majority of his life, but as one of his stories comes to an end, people start to wonder about a second ending.

A few days ago, Messi’s misery on the pitch was met with a PR crash off the pitch when he was sentenced to a suspended 21 months in jail after he was found guilty for tax fraud, after being already linked to the Panama Papers only a couple of months before. This altered many people’s perception of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner, a man who has fought to keep his private life away from the media as possible. So while that obviously was yet another blow for Leo, with a Copa America hangover already on his mind, Leo was suddenly victimised brutally.

And in such moment of crisis, the club did the only thing they’ve ever done when it came to matters concerning the finest footballer on the globe – they stuck by their man.

In doing so however, they’ve shot themselves in the foot when they launched a campaign with the hashtag #WeAreAllLionelMessi horrifically backfired. They thought that they could get people taking photos or sending a message with both hands open to support a multi-million euro scandal and mask a tax fraud case? It’s insane.

Not only is it ethically questionable to support a criminal case, but doesn’t even make sense from a PR perspective. In doing so, they’ve only got people to talk about the case even more, which is exactly what they don’t want. It was clearly a miscalculated mistake, but the reasoning behind it was my concern.

FC Barcelona is a big club, a stunt like this is suicidal and it has backfired indubitably. So let’s trail the thought process. A convicted player as the star of your club doesn’t necessarily bode well to an already fragile image of Barça. To support his claim in a statement shows that the club will side with the player regardless of the court’s order. This could’ve been done subtly with a club statement yet the club has purposely thought out a utterly horrible campaign plan. This it begs the question – why go so far to change people’s perspective of him?

The outcomes were at best for everyone to buy into it ridiculously and show support, which obviously didn’t happen. At worst, still prove to Lionel Messi that this club is with him through thick and thin, even if it has to stab itself in the heart so thoroughly. That’s how desperate the club was to show affection to Leo.

Now, with all these facts in mind we come to ask ourselves – why so desperate? Could it be because Leo’s sorrows have gone deeper than we realise? Could it be that perhaps Leo has begun to become disinterested in the sport itself? Even if we’re talking only marginally, does this signal his upcoming “end of joy” in football?

As a writer, I’ve learned not to make the mistake of trying to predict the future. However at the age of 29, Lionel Messi is about to play his final season before crossing the age of 30. Players constantly get questioned over their consistency once they cross the age of 30, with Luis Suárez the first of the MSN set to experience this come his birthday next January. Both spectacular and quality players that will for sure beat the myth of age and play wonderfully to prove it. The signs however are pushing towards a final chapter for Messi in Barcelona, whether that be in three or four years.

I’m not here to debate whether he’ll rejoin the national team in 2018, but more about how somehow Leo must find his joy for football once again when the season kicks off and he probably will. Leo could come out of this misery either stronger and hungrier or disinterested and lost. At this point, Messi must discover for himself whether he can overcome the public’s perception of him on and off the field and let it drive him like his eternal rival, or succumb to the hangover of these dark times rather than coming back stronger from it.

One thing, however, always pushed Messi to persevere and come back from tough times – his rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo. Whether he admits it or not, Messi has been driven by the Portuguese as much it has been the other way around. Their numbers, fan bases, records, and accolades keep pushing the two to win more. So in a season where his adversary won the Champions League with his club and the Euro Cup with his nation, Messi finds himself in a position where he must re-spark that rivalry in what could be the the very last couple of seasons and battles between the fantastic duo, as Ronaldo looks likely to collect his fourth Ballon d’Or in January already – with just a dash of PR work needed to wrap it all up.

Ronaldo is 31 and two can still go head-to-head for long, however, we must acknowledge that the two are past their prime even though they still arguably are the two best current players in the world. And the facts are, both of these players’ contracts finish by the summer of 2018. Both players can leave their respective clubs being eternal legends and top scorers. The Portuguese will be 33 and the Argentine will be 31 – perfect stages to leave their respective clubs and move on to their final chapters of their careers – be it a former club or final sellout. And until either renew their contract, that is the reality we face for football’s greatest rivalry ever.

The only question that remains is, who will have the final laugh?

Who knows? Maybe Messi will come back for Argentina in Russia and give one last go at his dream. Maybe not. Maybe Leo renews his contract despite all the off-field chaos going with his case. Or maybe not.

The only thing that matters however, if this is indeed La Pulga‘s final chapter with Barça and Spain, I can but only wish that this special man finds his joy once more for the beautiful game. Be it through a rivalry or another storm of accolades, Messi will want nothing more than to finish his career in Barça on an absolute high. At least that’s the Messi I’ve watched over the years and got to know and understand, not the one I can’t possibly relate to at this moment.

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  • Ayanfe Dada

    Messi will come out of this stronger and hungrier for more success.

  • Pete Masiti

    Non Sense Article….Everytime Messi has been down he has come out stronger than ever. He is only becoming a better player every year. 2014 was his best World Cup ever, 2016 Copa America was his best Copa ever.

  • Savo Kraljević

    Haha, what a sensationalist piece. This site has really gone down the drain, huh?

  • Eivind Niclasen

    I can´t imagine Messi not constantly evolving his game in one way or another. If his speed and dribbles don´t match previous seasons, then his finishing and freekicks will skyrocket. It´s different with Ronaldo, who is being kept alive and in the running by a media campaign reaching feverish heights at this very moment. It´s all politics and designed to land him another Ballon d´or before he turns 32. On a playing level, he was easily overshadowed and emphatically outclassed by the likes of Griezmann, Perisic, Iniesta and teammate Renato Sanches during the Euros in France. He is in rapid decline, and he knows it. People have now begun celebrating him for his tears rather than his dribbles, assists and goals.

    Messi, on the other hand, is vastly more talented than the self-worshipping madridista and can squash any ambitions of Ronaldo by outperforming him next season. His tax trial is finally over, so he can now score hattricks during weekends without having to show up in court Monday morning and face some resentful madridista with a gavel and a check from Florentino in the back pocket. With Messi hopefully not returning to the Albiceleste again, he can give his all to Barca and give his opponents hell next season; he is largely loathed by Argentinians as well as he is loved by culés worldwide. This is where he belongs.

    • Pete Masiti

      He was outclassed by atleast 20 players in the euros on performance. Lewandowski, Griezmann, payet, iniesta, his own teammates Nani, Quaresma, Sanches, patricio, pepe, gurriero, cedric. The marketing and politics is very high for him though.

      You are wrong about Argentines though…The entire nation is in crisis after Messi retirement…They have no clue how to cope with it. They do Love him but are looking for another maradona but what they fail to realise is that Maradona had his Burchaga and Valdano, Messi has no one.

      • Eivind Niclasen

        Not sure about Lewandowski there, but otherwise I do agree with you. Ronaldo´s career seems unusually engineered compared to everybody else´s. While a whining and diving ego maniac on the pitch, there also seems to be a collective effort by himself and the international media to create a modern saint, who also happens to be a self-obsessed playboy. Apparently, there is no longer any contradiction in that.

        Blood donor? Check. Bone marrow donor? Check. Gives money to charity? Check. Pays his taxes? Check. Just don´t expect him to be charitable when nobody is watching; every good deed is enthusiastically reported around the world, making it highly dubious how altruistic he actually is. His donations have the air of calculated investments triggered by PR considerations. Bearing in mind the continual outlay of money out of his own pocket, his largest payout is strangely ignored by his congregation. Only a few years ago, he sired a boy with an unknown woman, while paying her one year´s salary never to contact her son at any point in the future. What a gentleman.

        Still, his PR seems continually obsessed with telling everyone what a “class act” and splendid bloke he really is. Every ounce of goodwill is eagerly collected in the hopes of amplifying his good boy image, while his international fanclub (the press) spends the rest of its time demonising Messi.

        Probably just a coincidence, eh?

        • Grega Kavčič

          I don’t get the whole CR thing… I really dont.

          He had an awfull 2016, shit stats, shit euros, kicked 4 players, dissed his teamates, and now is really the frontrunner for the bdor? What the hell f***. I know when Pepe hails him, I understand when Fergie hails him, but then come other football playes who’s praise I don’t understand even a bit.

          In Slovenian TV portugal game, before he hit a FK, the comentator said it is like a penalty for him. My stomach turned I did not know what to think.

          • Victor Gusila

            Well, that the commentator is a moron. At least over here the guy commenting his FKs was all “Ronaldo prepares another of his trademark free kicks, note the posture before he begins his run-up, he is going to hit it hard, most likely into the wall, though the supporters behind the goal are hoping for a selfie with the ball if he hits it way above.”

          • Eivind Niclasen

            A freekick would be like a penalty for Pirlo in his prime, not for CR7 during the last 2-3 seasons. He even dropped the ludicrous backtracking-and-posing routine in the lead-up a long time ago. I actually prefer Ronaldo hanging on to his freekick privilege at RM, because Bale´s stats in that area are endlessly superior to the media´s favourite weeping boy´s.He will probably cheat his way to one final golden ball, before we get rid of him. Lots more calculated photo ops will come for the remainder of 2016, because Florentino´s PR will go into full swing from August to January in the hopes of yet another cheap and underwhelming Ballon d´Or.

            Meanwhile, Barca and Messi can focus their attention on destroying any opponent coming their way. I like what Robert Fernandez is doing so far in the transfer market. Digne and Umtiti bring quality and depth, while Sandro has joined Malaga, Bartra is in Dortmund and Mathieu already has one foot out the door. An extra forward will join the club soon, while Adriano and Song may go to Italy and Turkey respectively. The sporting director seems to have acknowledged the cost of not having a bench, so the deadwood is systematically being replaced by squad players of a high calibre. In other news, Vermaelen is said to be heading back to the BPL. Let´s hope so for him and for Barca.

        • Pete Masiti

          To be Honest….Reminds me of the beckham situation. Beckham was a far worse player than Ronaldo But he was always up there with the best during his playing time.

          I’d have to think Looks play a big part and playing in the EPL…EPL is a marketing machine no a monster. Beckham though was a true gentleman who never played any games or politics like Ronaldo and didn’t have a PR team crying his name like his the second coming of Jesus.

          Some say he sold his soul to the Devil….LOL…i don’t believe it but man the way things turn out for him every season….Like i just keep wondering, How can a normal human have so much luck and marketing on his….Marketing, Okay he pays for it and has a huge PR team like the EPL but how can you explain the Luck year after year?
          Oh and obviously, He plays for Real Madrid which has such a huge Marketing and everything…..Barcelona cannot compete with Madrid on press and marketing. Plus they own every Media in Spain who are the first to get every news out to the world.

    • Catalan784

      Very well said mate. I should have read your comments before replying to Lise as you have summed it up perfectly. It is always a pleasure to read such well thought out analysis !!!

  • Lise-Lotte Wallin

    I hope that he can give us at least one more spectacular season with Barca. If he would leave after that, I wouldn’t blame him.

    • Catalan784

      He will be with us for at least another 4 spectacular year if not more. He has been evolving (from striker to pass master) in the last 2 years and his vision n passing is better than most. With Suarez along side him for another 2-3 years I can see a lot of joy in the city of Catalunya.

  • ieraaa

    I refuse to believe Messi is past his prime, I refuse to believe that

  • Snowy Jo

    Yeah, Ronaldo is waay past his prime.
    But Messi? Really? Did you even watch the Copa?
    Even if you didn’t, this past Spring he played some his best football for Barca – that stretch from Feb-March. The kind of passes he was hitting was unreal. Superior to anything I’ve seen from Xavi or Andres. That’s saying something.

  • Andiko Putro

    So apparently the club failed to land a new sponsorship deal because Barca just agreed to sign a one year sponshorship extension deal with Qatar Airways under the same conditions as current deal.

    • Eivind Niclasen

      It´s still only a one year extension. Rumour has it, that once the new Qatar deal expires, the next shirt sponsor will be Amazon.