Messi end for Farca
Unthinkable as it might sound, perhaps the time has come for the gifted Argie ace to leave Barca
LIONEL MESSI is as treasured a Catalan landmark as the spires of Antoni Gaudi’s unfinished masterwork.
Barcelona without its once-in-a-lifetime Argentine alchemist making magic at the Camp Nou is as unthinkable as the city’s skyline without the mind-blowing La Sagrada Familia.
To consider, even for a fleeting moment, Messi uniformed in anything other than those blue and red vertical striped battle fatigues, feels like an act of blasphemy.
Yet, on Friday evening, as the old Spanish aristocratic house was ransacked and hollowed out, the prospect of that conscious uncoupling seemed suddenly vivid and real.
As Bayern Munich ran amok, it was as if the epic Messi at Barca reel was run.
After 19 years — he crossed the Atlantic to sign as a 13-year-old in 2001 — 33 trophies, 634 goals and six Ballon d’Ors, the sense was of a relationship running on empty.
Head bowed, impotent as the club he carried to the stars tumbled like an unmoored elevator toward their doom, the flame of football’s sun king appeared quenched.
It was as if even his well of magic had run dry. Messi was desolate.
Barcelona, aged and tired, are in urgent need of a complete rebuild. The sort of renovation that could take years.
Years that Messi, now 33, does not have. Even a talent as unique as his is not immune to the passing months. Biding his time is not an option for the planet’s most gifted player.
Could he really walk away, to Inter Milan or, perhaps, to reunite with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City?
The well-connected Spanish journalist Guillem Balague recently revealed that Messi, whose contract expires next summer, was “fed up” at Barcelona.
That raised antennae in Milan – where they beamed the South American’s likeness onto the side of the Duomo Cathedral – and the blue side of Manchester.
Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu declined to entertain the apocalyptic notion of the impish genius departing.
“Messi has said many times he wants to retire here and I have no doubt that he will re-sign,” said Bartomeu.
In truth, that was still very much the likeliest outcome until Friday night.
The scale of Barcelona’s humiliation felt like a tipping point. It was devastating, an end of times abasement.
That it followed last year’s second-leg semi-final implosion at Anfield and came at the end of a season where even a clearly declining Real Madrid were too strong domestically, underlined how precipitously the Catalans have fallen. Luis Suarez, Gerald Pique and Sergio Busquets are all the wrong side of 30. Marquee signings Antoine Griezmann and Frenkie de Jong have not made the desired impact.
Quique Setien’s (left) brief and disastrous reign in the dugout is certain to end. The entire club is in urgent need of a reboot.
The sense is that Barca have squandered the years of peak-Messi.
It is five years since they last won the Champions League.
Munich could easily have hit double figures.
A drip feed of rumours has highlighted a deterioration in the highest profile relationship in club football.
The Argentine is understood to have been irked by how the club enforced a 70 per cent Covid paycut on the players.
And he was furious after it appeared Barca had hired a third party to create social media accounts which criticised opponents of the board, including Messi.
When he labelled many in the current squad “weak and erratic”, suddenly the unthinkable loomed into focus.
Reports emerged that cash-rich Inter are willing to offer Messi £60m per season to join on a four-year contract. His salary would eclipse his great rival, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Guardiola, meanwhile, swoons, every time he speaks about his old amigo.
“The best is Messi. Messi is (the best) number 9, number 10, number 11, number 7, number 6, number 5, number 4.
“He is one of a kind. A genius.
We are a contemporary of the guy. So enjoy it.”
With David Silva gone, there is a gap for a creative mastermind.
There is always a gap for Messi.
In February, Guardiola seemed to pour cold water on any possibility of the pair reuniting at The Etihad.
“He is a player from Barcelona and he will stay there, that’s my wish for him to stay there. I think he will finish his career there, that’s my wish.”
A wish that would instantly be transformed if Guardiola felt there was even the remotest possibility of luring football’s laureate to Manchester.
In his post-match analysis on BT Sport, Rio Ferdinand highlighted Messi’s advancing years as a potential game-changer.
“Has he got the time to sit there and wait?
“Football is a game that comes and goes very quickly in your life, so these next two years, where he’s still got the power to influence games the way he does, will he want to be doing that but not competing for the big titles?”
The demolished, haunted Messi captured by the TV cameras at the final whistle offered a powerful hint of his likely answer.