Will Messi stay at Barcelona?

 Lionel Messi
Barcelona talisman Lionel Messi. File photo: IANS

It was on December 14, 2000, that the then first team director of Barcelona Charly Rexach offered a contract on a paper napkin to a 13-year-old from Rosario, Argentina. The teenager had been a star of the youth team of Newell’s Old Boys, the team of his hometown and had been playing football since the age of six. A kid of small stature and build, it was at the age of 11, that he was informed that he had a growth hormone deficiency which could have ended his hopes of a professional career. Although both his club as well as bigger clubs wanted to help pay the treatments, they were unable to find the resources. It was then in 2000, that he went to Spain to try out for Barcelona, in hopes that they would be able to take care of his treatment. Initially hesitant, Barcelona finally decided to give the young Argentine a chance and drew up his first contract on a paper napkin which was the only thing that was at hand. In 2001, Messi moved to Barcelona.

The rest is history. Messi quickly rose through the ranks, first through the famous La Masia youth academy, being the top scorer of the club’s Baby Dream Team, before securing a first team debut at the age of 16 in a friendly against FC Porto. In 2005 he signed his first official contract as a first-team player and then gradually established himself through the following years as one of the best players not only in Barca, but in the whole world.

Messi poses with the Copa del Rey trophy after Barca beat Athletic Bilbao in the final last Sunday. Photo: AFP

Now 16 years later with many trophies and Ballon d’Ors in his cabinet, Messi might be finally leaving Barcelona. Although still widely considered one of the best in the sport, Messi seems to be frustrated in his present position with Barcelona. The club’s recent lack of success, his dissatisfaction with the management and many more factors seem to indicate that a departure from the club is on the cards.

For any European club, Champions League is the ultimate goal and it’s no different for Messi and Barcelona. They have not won the Champions League since 2015 and Messi’s thirst for the trophy and his frustration at his team’s failure is apparent. The Catalan giants have been humiliated in the Champions League since then, time and time again. With second-leg losses back-to-back to both AS Roma and Liverpool after taking large leads to their 8-2 exit to Bayern Munich last year, the team just seems to be on a downward spiral. Despite the fact that Messi himself still seems at the top of his game, without the support of his team there is nothing he can do. The 2015 treble-winning team has slowly faded away. Neymar left for PSG and most of the old guard, including Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Ivan Rakitic have either retired or play for smaller clubs. New players like Antoine Griezmann and Ousmanne Dembele among others have failed to impress and link up as well with Messi and the team is a shadow of its former self.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi's future has been a hot topic ever since he tried to leave Barcelona in August. File photo: AFP

Messi's fall out with the club management in 2020 had led to the speculation about the club legend’s future. Due to disagreements with then club president Josep Bartomeu and the management along with his displeasure about new manager Ronald Koeman’s decision to see off Luis Suarez, a player who is a close friend as well as strong link up to Messi in attack, led to the Argentine sending in a notice on August 25, 2020, expressing his wish to leave the club. The internet was ablaze with theories off to where he would go, with the clear standout being Manchester City.

City would be one of the few clubs who could afford Messi’s salary and adding to that the strong bond between manager Pep Guardiola and Messi who had already played under him previously, it seemed that the path was clear. A late-night call between the two just seemed to confirm to everyone that curtains were coming down on Messi and his lifelong club.

Unfortunately for City and their fans, due to complications with his contract and his desire to avoid a drawn-out legal battle, Messi announced he would remain at Barcelona for one more season. Since then, a lot has changed including presidency of the club, with Joan Laporta, a former president who had a good relationship with Messi, taking charge. Barcelona despite being kicked out of the Champions League once again, this time before the quarterfinals, did manage to snatch some silverware in the form of Copa del Ray.

The present contract between the club and Messi will come to an end on June 30, 2021. Yet with the club’s current financial state they are not in a position to make Messi’s usual one-year contract with him as they would not be able to pay his 75 million annual wages. Club president Laporta has said that a new deal was in the making which would extend the contract duration to two or three years. This would help the club pay their star player in the form of smaller settlements throughout the two or three years as opposed to the annual contract.

As the date draws closer, Messi’s current state of mind is an enigma to everyone. If he decides to leave the club, most agree on the destination being Manchester City, with remote possibilities of PSG and City’s rival Manchester United being thrown around. His departure would mean the end of an era for Barcelona, a club which is so dependent on its talisman.

There are some icons in the field of sports whose names were and always will be linked to the teams they represented. Pele and Santos, Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls, Derek Jeter and New York Yankees, M S Dhoni and Chennai Super Kings, just to name a few. Yet none of these can be said to be more popular than the Messi-Barca duo.

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