Last-16 second leg against Napoli isn’t just about the club’s immediate future in the competition – it may well be about Messi’s future at the club, too
As irate as Lionel Messi was after Barcelona’s late-season defeat to Osasuna, he very quickly changed demeanour in the dressing room.
The Argentine felt the message was sent. It was now a time for another message, to his team-mates. That was to try and get things together and ensure they win the Champions League. He is “obsessed” with it.
That is the good thing about Messi. He doesn’t dwell. He’s generally focused in the right way. The wonder is how bad it will get if things go wrong and Barca fail, especially if it’s the first match back against Napoli.
It is why that last-16 second leg isn’t just about the club’s immediate future in the competition. It may well be about Messi’s future at the club.
The Argentine does not actively want to leave, but it’s certainly fair to say it is not impossible anymore. Intermediaries are investigating options, coming up with contingency plans. This is why Antonio Conte is getting asked about it at Inter Milan press conferences.
The biggest question, however, is whether Messi should leave.
It is an indictment of Barca that is currently difficult to answer. There may even be a greater argument that he should go rather than stay.
There are a few reasons for that, but the most pointed is that it feels like Barcelona are wasting Messi. They have certainly wasted his prime years.
It is simply incredible that a player as historically great as Messi has not won a Champions League past the age of 27. The time since has instead been filled with heartbreak and burning humiliations. That, naturally, is little fault of his. Messi has stayed at a stunning level throughout all that time. There have been long periods when he has looked better than ever, a more complete player who has perfected more aspects of the game, even if he wasn’t the sonic blur of energy that defined him at his first peak in 2011.
There were points when it felt like Messi won games – and sometimes even leagues – in spite of the dysfunction around him. It’s been magic moment after magic moment, goal after goal, an ever extending personal highlights reel that would easily have enough to distinguish at least 20 other greats together.
A case study is their last Champions League elimination, however. Messi produced a career performance in the first leg against Liverpool, scoring twice to make it 3-0, and then putting it on a plate for Ousmane Dembele to wrap it up at the end. He didn’t. Barca went out, in the most incredible of comebacks. Continue reading