By: Elyas Laubach
For soccer fans of our generation, Lionel Messi is not only recognized as the greatest player to ever wear the famous F.C. Barcelona jersey, but arguably the greatest to ever play the game. Following a season in which his team underperformed massively, the 33-year-old has told Barcelona’s board of directors that he wants to leave after 20 years at the club. Messi’s impending departure and the earthquake it will send through Barcelona begs the question: How, in a few short years, has Barcelona managed to disenchant its magician?
Messi has been unhappy since Barcelona sold his friend and fellow superstar, Neymar Jr, for $263 million in 2017. He was further antagonized by the way the club spent that money. Barcelona has spent $900 million over the past three years and fully expected to again reach the heights they did in 2015, when they won the treble (three trophies in one season) with the formidable strike force of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez. The club ignored Messi’s transfer suggestions and spent big to bring in stars like Philippe Coutinho ($160 million), Ousmane Dembele ($150 million), Antoine Griezmann ($130 million), and Frenkie de Jong ($80 million). With the exception of de Jong, none of these big transfers have come close to paying off.
While many saw in the leadup to the 2019/20 season that it would be an important campaign, no one could have anticipated that it would be Messi’s last season with the Catalonians. Despite a rough start, Barcelona seemed to have caught themselves by the halfway point of the season, as they were back at the top of the La Liga table. Despite their league success and their first-place finish in their Champions League group, technical secretary Eric Abidal fired head coach Ernesto Valverde on January 13, 2020. Many of Barcelona’s players, who had had a very good relationship with Valverde, felt betrayed, and their captain, Messi, let Abidal know about it. The two had to be separated at a practice shortly after Valverde’s sacking when things threatened to get physical. After a three-month break in the season because of COVID-19, the team collapsed under new head coach Quique Setien during the home stretch of the league season, squandering a two-point lead over Real Madrid to finish in second place, despite Messi having one of his statistically best La Liga seasons, finishing with 25 goals and 21 assists in just 33 games.
On August 14, 2020, Setien sent Barcelona into their quarterfinal match against Bayern Munich with a lineup that puzzled many, and the team was demolished 8:2. For Messi, this defeat was both the breaking point and likely his last game for Barcelona. Currently, the most likely destination for him seems to be Manchester City, where the manager who molded him into a superstar, Pep Guardiola, currently coaches. However, no matter where Lionel Messi ends up, he will continue to dazzle soccer fans and forever remain in the hearts of Barcelona fans.