In any other season, Lionel Messi would not have had to take matters into his own hands.
In any other season, Barca fans would have stood jeering in the stands of the Camp Nou, waving their white handkerchiefs to demand change as their team lost grip on the Spanish title.
But this season—the one that has lasted over a year and left fans locked outside thanks to the impact of COVID-19—Messi has decided to take a stand.
He had been angry for months. First because of a perceived lack of effort from the board in trying to bring Neymar back, but more recently—as Real Madrid clinched La Liga in July—a frustrated Messi made clear how he felt about the team.
“We didn’t want to end the season like this, but it represents how the season has gone,” he told broadcaster Movistar+ (h/t Goal.com) after Barca were beaten by Osasuna at home in the penultimate game of the season. “We were a very erratic, very weak, low-intensity team.”
The 8-2 UEFA Champions League quarter-final humiliation against Bayern Munich was final evidence of everything Messi had spent time worrying about.
And now reports have surfaced that he is truly fed up. That Messi is seriously considering quitting Barca.
Reporter Marcelo Bechler is the man who broke the story. He’s the same man that first broke the news that Neymar was joining Paris Saint-Germain. He is considered a highly reliable transfer source around Barcelona.
His report for Esporte Interativo flew around the world, and as his words were translated and scrutinised, the message was clear: Messi wants to leave Barcelona. Not in 2021 when his contract expires. Now.
Speaking to this week’s B/R Football Ranks podcast, available now, Bechler explained: “At the beginning of the season he said what was important was not a big contract or money, but a strong project. And with no titles and that loss to Bayern, he still has three or four years left to play and he knows he can help Barca—but they can not help him.
“Messi has always thought him and Barca were ‘just one thing,’ but now he is thinking maybe he can be another thing without Barcelona. He can make another step and try to win without Barcelona.
“He is angry with the board and disappointed with the club and wants to leave now. Barca are pessimistic because they can’t offer a solid project and can’t do much to help him.
“It is very likely he leaves Barcelona if there is another project, I don’t know where or which club. It is impossible in this economy to pay €700 million, but I think Barca don’t want him here unhappy. After all that Messi gave to them, they don’t want him here as a prisoner.”
Every now and then, there is a transfer that stops and leaves you gobsmacked.
There was Luis Figo switching from Barcelona to Real Madrid, David Beckham moving to MLS to sign for L.A. Galaxy and Neymar leaving Barca for Paris-Saint Germain.
Make no mistake about it—Messi leaving Barcelona for another European club would eclipse them all. There had been murmurs of Messi’s exit decision ahead of Bechler’s report, with Spanish radio station COPE reporting that he would leave if the club was not restructured. But they were reporting that he would leave in 2021—not now.
Since the initial news, Barcelona have removed their coach, Quique Setien, and he is expected to be replaced by Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman any day now.
It’s one step towards pacifying Messi, who was never much of a Setien believer. But how much more work is there to do?
Barcelona have not won the Champions League since 2015 and ended this latest campaign without a major trophy for the first time in six years. Aged 33, Messi surely can not face the reality of not winning Europe’s elite the competition again before retirement.
Andy West is a commentator on LaLigaTV and also wrote the book Lionel Messi and the Art of Living.
He told B/R, “Messi has considered leaving before. At the start of his career he contemplated a big offer from Inter Milan, and more recently he seriously struggled to connect with Luis Enrique during the early days of his managerial stint at the Camp Nou.
“It came to a head at the start of 2015 when Luis Enrique left both Messi and Neymar on the bench for a game at Real Sociedad because they had only recently returned after spending Christmas in South America. Barca lost the game 1-0, Messi skipped the following day’s open training session for young fans and mischievously started following Chelsea on Instagram.
“It was a fraught week, but reconciliation came with a stirring victory over Atletico Madrid and the two enjoyed a decent relationship after that.
“I think it would be perfectly understandable if Messi chose to leave now. The club has become a circus, and for the last few years he has been asked to do far too much to paper over the ever-widening cracks.
“Messi is fully aware of the poor state of the team and the club in general and feels that his public warnings have not been heeded.
“Considering the ageing profile of the squad and their dire financial situation, it’s hard to see how Barca will be able to challenge for a major trophy next season, and Messi must be wondering whether he is prepared to effectively waste one of the few remaining years of his career.”