It’s a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’. After multiple rounds of rumours, some talking about him staying, some talking about him leaving, it is believed that Lionel Messi has put pen to paper on a new contract at Barcelona. Signing renewed terms all but confirms that the diminutive Argentine will finish his career at Barcelona, a move that can be termed as a win for football romanticists.
However, as Jose Mourinho would repeatedly shout in your ears, “Poets don’t win many titles,” while referring to the importance of pragmatism over romanticism, this move by Barcelona has some sceptics too.
Messi Still King, But Barca’s problems’ Run Deeper
Lionel Messi is coming off a win in Copa America with his national team, an achievement that he would probably put near the top of his list of accolades. Therefore, Barcelona are clearly getting a motivated and jubilant Messi who has just proved that he is still at his best for some time to come. However, Barcelona’s financial situation throws a wrench into that notion.
It has been clear for quite some time that mismanagement under the previous Bartomeu regime has left the finances at Barca in tatters. It has reached a point where Barcelona cannot even announce the apparently done renewal of Messi. This is because, with their free-signings in the form of Aguero, Depay and more, La Liga’s spending caps prevent them from registering new players.
To get around this, Barcelona have had to resort to seeking buyers for any and every one of their players, with the once-marquee signing, Antoine Griezmann, linked to a new club every day. Struggling to find buyers for their expensive mistakes in Coutinho, Griezmann and more has left Barcelona in a precarious situation. Worst comes to worst, Barcelona may have to start the season with their club legend still being a free agent, unable to take to the pitch. This brings it back to the main question- Is a Messi extension worth it?
Is The Extension Worth It?
From the point of view of Barcelona’s fans, even asking such a question is blasphemy. Even from a financial point, it can be argued that Messi alone brings more revenue to Barcelona than they invest in him. Still, hard times call for hard decisions. While expecting ex-President Bartomeu to sell Messi last year when they could have gotten something in return was fanciful at best, even letting Messi explore new pastures could have been the pragmatic thing to do.
Barcelona, free from financial issues in that case, could have built the team around a new crop of exciting youngsters coming through. The likes of Pedri, a returning Ansu Fati are at the forefront of the next generation of Spanish superstars, both plying their trade at the Catalan club. Without the huge looming shadow of the footballing magician from Argentina, there would have been a chance for these youngsters to take control of the games at the biggest stages and develop quickly. Most importantly, Barcelona had a chance to get away from “Messidependicia”, a phenomenon that Barcelona fans used to describe the one-dimensional tactics of the team. They can hardly be called “tactics”.
Stuck In Old Times
There has been a widely held belief in the footballing world that about the reason why Barcelona keeps faltering at the biggest stages against the strongest teams. It is that Barcelona rely so much on Messi to bail them out of trouble, that the opposing teams can simply foul him into oblivion while taking advantage of the team-wide frailties in Messi’s team. Bayern Munich used it to ruthless effect when they dispatched Barca by a scoreline of 8-2 in UCL knockouts.
Football has started moving away from the cult of personality. Teams that rely on collective work, pressing from the front, working hard on and off the ball have been the ones that have tasted success recently. This tactics-intensive shift in football has made it so that having a Messi or Ronaldo or Neymar or Mbappe in your team is no longer a guarantee of success. Dependence on a single player to win matches is as a tactic has its ceiling, and that ceiling is lower than ever with this shift in football.
Romanticism Wins, Will Pragmatism Strike?
At a time when Barcelona had the chance handed to them to upgrade with modern times, they chose romanticism instead. They moved heaven and earth to secure a new contract for Lionel Messi. This can have so many negative effects, both on and off the pitch. Off the pitch, their financial troubles have taken on a whole new level as they struggle to register new signings or even Messi. More importantly, on the pitch, their open efforts to get rid of players to accommodate Messi and the new signings is bound to create an uncomfortable atmosphere within the squad. Current Barcelona President has even come out and said, “We’re open to all proposals,” for Antoine Griezmann. Such public remarks can’ be good for the player’s or his friends’ morale in the dressing room. Furthermore, Barcelona terminated Matheus Fernandes’ contract, which ran till 2024, with the player suing them in return.
Barcelona has shown that it will gladly take such hits if that means that Messi stays at the club. Question is- Did they have a choice? Did they renew Messi’s contract because they wanted to, or because they had to? Barcelona without Messi seems unthinkable and it sure looks like Laporta came under public pressure, as the President didn’t want his tenure to be the one under which Barcelona’s greatest player left the club, a line of thinking that is eerily similar to Bartomeu’s.