Sorting Out The Mess – Key Questions Around the Lionel Messi Saga
Let’s look at some of the key questions surrounding his proposed move from Barcelona.
I remember sitting on a rather narrow wooden bench in my college mess in Calcutta, late at night on 10 March 2007. We had watched hundreds of matches huddled around the small TV there, but that night was different – it was the second El Clasico of a LaLiga season, one of the best in recent history, which went down to the final day.
During the worst of times, a Barcelona-Real Madrid match brings the footballing world to a standstill, but given the stakes and what unfolded, it probably broke it. A 19-year old wonder kid from Argentina was tipped to be the next big thing at Barcelona – scratch tipped and scratch next. With an injury time equaliser to make it 3-3, not only did Lionel Messi complete a stunning hat trick, but also established his position as a superstar of the world game. The entire narrative that night was about Messi, and 13 years later, well...
Let’s be honest, no one saw this coming.
Before Barcelona imploded yet again and suffered arguably their most humiliating defeat in history, the possibility of Lionel Messi not being around next season was a significantly distant one, at best. Leo is Mr. Barcelona, their talisman, their leader – even at a club which has constantly boasted of some of the world’s best in their ranks, Messi was different. The world’s best player, probably ever, the face of the club and one of their own.
Fast forward two weeks and we find ourselves in the middle of arguably the biggest football story of our generation, one that has shaken the sport to its core. Seeing Messi in another shirt, and possibly even lining up against Barcelona in the near future just doesn’t feel right, but if the reports are to be believed, there is a chance, a real chance that this may happen.
Why Messi wants to leave is a whole other issue, but let’s look at some of the key questions surrounding his proposed move from Barcelona to pastures new, after 19 glorious years.
Will He End Up Leaving?
We don’t know. We have seen many great players agitate for moves in the past, only to stay put. While you don’t expect Messi to just casually hand in a transfer request or use it as a pressure tactic, we have seen him do this kind of stuff before, particularly with the national team.
Having said that, something about this feels different, and Messi’s beef is with the club’s hierarchy itself, the ones in charge of handling this whole situation.
While it would be far easier to just stay, you would imagine the club would have to take some huge decisions to enable that.
Who Holds The Cards?
This is where it gets tricky. And as a fan, to even imagine Messi and Barcelona engaged in a legal battle feels so wrong. He’s been as loyal as he’s been magnificent for the club, someone around whom the team has been built for over a decade. It is this service and the relationship that he enjoys with the club, the fans and the city that made Barcelona add a ‘walk-away’ clause in his contract, by virtue of which Messi has an option to leave the club for free at the end of any season, as long as he lets them know by 10 June. That, of course, was under the assumption that a normal season wraps up in May, giving Barcelona the whole summer to plan for life without Messi.
With COVID-19 ensuring that Barcelona only played their last game of the season in mid-August, Messi’s representatives hold that the notice date ought to be pushed back accordingly, since the aim is to let the club know within a couple of weeks of the season finishing.
However, that’s not what the clause says. It mentions a specific date, and like millions of contracts around the world, couldn’t have reasonably fathomed such a scenario.
Barcelona are adamant that the release clause of EUR 700 million is applicable, making it pretty much unaffordable for any club around the world. If there is any chance for him to leave, it would probably have to be somewhere in the middle, with Barcelona reducing their asking price substantially, but still making sure that they get a handsome packet from the deal.
Then there’s the politics. Barcelona are known to be a very political club, and the current President Bartomeu and this team are at the heart of this entire mess. Fans are calling for them to resign and for elections to be held immediately, with a belief that this may convince Messi to stay.
It may however, be too little too late, and if Messi has indeed decided to walk away, you would imagine that it will happen.
Where Will He Go?
We’ve probably never seen the number of top clubs linked with any player before, the way they’ve been linked with Messi. But we’ve never really seen a player like Messi before either.
While Sean Dyche ruled out Messi moving to Burnley earlier this week, links to the big boys still remain. But there’s a clear favourite and the biggest giveaway probably lies in Manchester City’s silence for the past few days. We know they want him, we sure as hell know they can afford him, and a reunion with Pep, who is desperate to guide his team to the holy grail of the Champions League, seems pretty much a match made in heaven.
For City, it's a no brainer. With all the success that they’ve enjoyed on the pitch over the past decade, one thing they’ve constantly struggled with is the brand.
Lack of historical success means that City don’t have the huge fan base that the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal do, particularly in international markets, something the club are very aware of and desperately trying to change.
Messi changes all that. Manchester will have the attention of the footballing world, and for once, the team in red will not make the headlines. City will never struggle to fill up the stadium, becoming arguably the hottest ticket in Europe. A child wearing a City jersey in Mexico will not be an unusual sight. And if Michael O'Neill does a good job this season, we may finally get to know if Messi can do it on a cold, wet Wednesday night in Stoke...
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