It’s getting messy

I’ve been asked to write about Messy-gate but it seems to me that the situation hardly requires a profound analysis. But maybe that’s the point, because the behaviour of the Barcelona president and his diminishing band of acolytes is so bizarre that one can only rub one’s stubble in wonder.  Is there any sense whatsoever in their ‘policy’, if such it can be labelled? Now the league’s got involved and sided with Barça.  Conclusion?  Read on.

Let’s rewind a wee bit. It must have been either 2001 or 2002, I can’t quite recall.  What I do recall is that Real Sociedad were doing very well in the league and that Barcelona were the visitors.  Stumbling into my favourite bar in the Antiguo neighbourhood of San Sebastián at lunchtime with a mate, we came across a noisy but friendly group of culés, one of whom was interested to see a pasty foreigner (me) wearing an ill-fitting Sociedad shirt. In short, we got talking, and it was one of those careful encounters where you wish to keep it friendly.  To achieve this, you make deliberate complimentary remarks about the other team, to show that you’re not a thug in disguise – and you hope that they will reciprocate.  This guy did, saying that he was worried about the game and that Real had some great players etc, but did I know about the secret weapon that Barça had in the locker, almost ready to be released upon the world?  I said that I didn’t.  I remember his serious look and the reverent way in which he dropped the pitch of his voice.  ‘He’s called Messi’ he told me, in Spanish.  ‘He’s unbelievable. Listen – he’ll be the greatest of all time. I’m not pulling your leg’, and with that, he and his mates left. And for some reason, the surname registered.  About three years later, Messi made his debut against Espanyol, I was at the match and I never even noticed, but hey. Now it all makes a bit of sense.

When it all began

Of the five other players commonly regarded as the greatest of all time by folks like me who are decrepit enough to have seen them all play (Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Best, Di Stéfano – the first four in the flesh, the other on grainy telly), only Pele can be said to have contributed so much to one single club, although historians might argue the case for Di Stéfano, of course.  All five made their mark in different ways, which is what makes them so interesting, but none of them really had the impact on their club’s trajectory and trophy cabinet that Messi has had.  If you argue that Di Stéfano created the modern Real Madrid well fine – you might be right.  But as a player, he also left under a cloud.  This isn’t a cloud, however, but a gale-force storm, gathering strength on a daily basis.  Why?  Because Messi is clearly the greatest player to have ever donned boots since the game dribbled into existence a century-and-a-half ago.

We know the figures, and they’re insane – at least in the higher-octane context of 21st century elite football. 645 goals in 763 appearances. The Barça fan in the bar was right, although what he hadn’t seen was that a certain confluence of players residing back then in La Masia, namely Messrs Iniesta, Xavi, Puyol and a little later, Busquets, would all conspire to permit this weirdly focused little man to do his stuff.  And maybe he would’ve done it anyway, in whatever space-time continuum he happened to have been placed.  Even in Getafe.  And assuming that no other intelligent life in the cosmos would practise anything quite as dumb as football, he’s probably the best player in the universe. His physical movements have certainly threatened to change the laws of physics.

You can see where this is leading……Mr Bartomeu – but let’s just consider the wee man as a person as well. Messi has caused the club no problems whatsoever. He has stayed out of politics – which is some achievement given the profile of the club and the two previous dodgy presidents he played under. He’s never been a womaniser, a disco-lurker or a drinker. He’s a family guy, with three kids and a wife whom he first met when he was five.

Family guy

He had a few tax-evasion scares, but hey, standard for the course.  He’s not exactly Mr Charisma, but he keeps the soundbites to himself.  Had this not blown up, he would probably have been seen (and cultivated) as a future ambassador for the club, and indeed, he may be desperate to preserve some part of the bridge that he otherwise seems to be burning. But he’s fed up – not simply of the 8-2 and the warning signs that preceded it, but with the randomly crude treatment of his fellow players, one day lauded, the next put out to grass. He’s nothing if not loyal, and the treatment of his mate Luis Súarez was clearly the last straw.  You can peddle the counter-argument that he’s a quiet dictator, and that his influence over the club’s policies in the last few years has been malign, but it’s a theory that’s hard to swallow.  If a president is an effective one, the configurations of power in a club remain in equilibrium. If Messi has had undue influence, then that is because he himself saw too much chaos from the top.

Where it all ended

His brilliance also papered over the club’s previous institutional cracks and raised it to perhaps its greatest ever level, with the tiki-taka side seemingly invincible and a new paradigm born.  What the club is today, despite its historic achievements and its traditional propensity for battling against the political odds, is very much down to this oddly introverted and shy man from Argentina, who might not have made it if Charly Rexach had not had the gumption to persuade the club to pay for the treatment for his hormone deficiency.  And now they won’t let him go.  They won’t let him go in a dignified manner.

You could argue that Messi should have announced his intentions before June 10th (as stipulated in his contract) but if it goes to court then nobody wins, least of all the club. In the end, they are going to have to put a price on his head and accept that it’s all over, baby blue (with a bit of red). The only possible logic behind their strategy is that by delaying the inevitable they remind his suitors that they still own Messi, and value him as a player – in a strictly financial sense. Nobody will pay 700 million – an abstraction designed for a moment like this – but the exact figure that Man City (for example) might pay is also tricky to calculate for a player who has, at best, a couple of years left. Messi’s done it all.  He’s not going to continue beyond 35 because he doesn’t need to.  He’s a family guy and, as they say in Yorkshire, he’s not short of a bob or two.  His kids attend an English school in Barcelona and so could probably cope with the Manc accent for a couple of years.  The rain might get them down a bit, but you can’t have everything.

There’s something about these circumstances that resemble the wife/husband who has suddenly been informed by the lawyer that their partner wants a divorce. Many of these victims, caught napping, sink into a state of denial that requires psychological help.  They need to be told that yes, it’s really over and that you’re going to have to face up to that, sooner or later. Someone needs to visit Bartomeu, and soon.

Looks like he hasn’t slept.  In need of some therapy?

Quite apart for the obvious need to let Messi go – because Messi has clearly made his mind up, there are other, more neutral considerations to bear in mind. For example, it would be interesting to see how he fared in another challenging league such as the English Premier, and fascinating to see him in a different coloured shirt in a new context.  He may disappoint, but the prospect fascinates.  LaLiga can also breathe a sigh of relief, since they would finally be rid of the Messi-Ronaldo dual-duel that has so unbalanced the Spanish scene since Ronaldo turned up in 2009 (I was at his debut too – sorry to be an arse).  For the last sixteen seasons since that Messi debut, only Atlético have managed to briefly break up the Godzilla-Kong combat, for a single measly season.  A little levelling of the playing field would surely compensate for the absence of these two players, with Sevilla, Villarreal, Atlético and one or two other pretenders handed the sudden possibility of really winning the league title, instead of just fantasising about it.  It’s difficult to see how that is a problem.

Instead, it seems that Barcelona’s calamitous decision-making is to continue, for the time being, and that the only possible consequence is that Messi will simply refuse to play.  Does the club therefore intend to finish off its glorious season of ill-considered fuckwittage by depriving the general public of the greatest player the game has ever seen, for an entire season?  It doesn’t bear thinking about.  The other theory that I’ve heard is that Bartomeu thinks that public opinion could turn against Messi too, although exactly how that would help to solve the situation is unclear.

Will it happen?

Given that LaLiga declared today (Sunday) that Messi is not a free agent and that his contract is still valid, he may turn up for Covid testing this coming week. He’s unlikely to pay the 700 million himself, much as he’d like to leave.  I reckon he’ll sit it out. The transfer window closes in early October so there’s margin for a sensible pact between the two parties, or even union arbitration. Hang on to your seats. It’s going to get messy.

6 thoughts on “It’s getting messy”

  1. It will all probably work out the way you envisage. Barcelona will have to sell Messi for €150-200 million if they can get it. And Leo’ s destination is Manchester – most probably City.

    The shocking thing in all this is La Liga coming down on the side of FC Barcelona when it should remain neutral. Two clubs will reach an agreement and La Liga cannot do anything about it.

    Maybe this is the beginning of the end for La Liga’s President Javier Tebas.


  2. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful as Rob Palmer would put it. I was so waiting for this Phil….thanks for time travel and back to present. Several ppl, admittedly mostly trolls, commenting that Leo is 33 yr old and Barca can rebuild are purposely missing the point. Agree or not, Barca was Messi from 2008 onwards, at least. Their global profile, entire business model is so hinged on Leo and his sustained brilliance. They also stupidly say that he was handsomely compensated so it was not really not loyalty. If Barca paid a Kings ransom for Leo it was only a small percentage of what Leo brought to the table.

    Forget any sophisticated analysis, the joy and the utter thrill he brought to the billions is simply immeasurable. Barca should thank and let him go so that we can witness a final crescendo of the unbridled genius. Also, you must meet the Barca fan who first told you about Leo and host a party…..will transfer monies😃


  3. I will defend Messi as GOAT forever. I became a Barça fan in 2001 and it wasn’t until 4 years later they won a title. Therefore, I cannot be more thankful for what Messi has done.

    Having said that, this is utterly disgraceful behaviour by the man. As much as the recruitment has been problematic (imho started with Fabregas, which led to a then quasi-permanently crocked Thiago to leave) for almost the entire decade, Barça have acquiesced with every demand made by Messi & then some. The least he could have done is face the fans and say sorry after the most horrendous defeat of maybe ever.

    It’s not his fault but like Cruijff said, “Great players already assume others will make mistakes”. Messi as captain needed to own it like Varane did. This is a ridiculous power move given that Dumbomeu (geddid?) cannot even run for Presidency in March apparently.

    Cannot stand these hipster Barça fans who were yearning for Setien when he was in Las Palmas itself. The fans’ behaviour is 10X worse by washing away all, for a lack of better word, “sins” of Messi in the last 5 years and blaming the board for every ill.

    The team still isn’t half-bad I feel. Probably not good enough to win the league but with a bit of luck & a bit of grind maybe in Europe, if not UCL at least UEL to complete the trophy set (yeah yeah Fairs Cup yada yada).

    I wanted Messi to leave Barça after he at least equalled the great Paco Gento (12 LLs, 6 EC/UCLs) but it is not to be.

    Spain is all set to join Germany & Italy as a competition for second place. Sed stery.


  4. I’m not strongly pulled in either direction on this one. Like Karikadaiboy, I have been faithful to Barca since the late 90s. After a successful manager/team/dynasty cycle, many clubs fail to rebuild–Milan, Arsenal, Manchester United, to name a few of the recent struggling giants–so I’ve never been quick to want anyone to leave in the last 10 years. In this moment, though, it seems like the most sensible move the club can make is to negotiate with a hard stance like they are…then “let” Messi go for a “small” transfer fee. Then, most importantly, after appearing to give and give and give in the negotiation with Messi…slip a permanent “you can’t play against us” clause into the deal. Then the world gets to enjoy the little genius but he can’t pull a Couthino and push us out of the Champions League!


  5. slip a permanent “you can’t play against us” clause into the deal.

    That is cowardly and has never been Barca’s style, as far as i know…
    It’s more a Madrid thing and something I’ve never understood… Ridiculous!


  6. Hi Mr Ball, been a while and glad to read your comments on this issue which i find really upsetting.. you hit the nail on the head when you say “they won’t let him go in a dignified manner.” And to make it even worse, he’s being fined 100k daily… really???

    But then, this presidency is simply an extension of the petty and vindictive and short sighted Rosell era presidency so no surprises really..

    You could argue that Messi should have announced his intentions before June 10th (as stipulated in his contract)

    This i find curious… let’s assume he did tell them in June and wanted to stop playing then, it’s almost certain the board would have said the season is not over and that the date is only a guide to signal that the season should be over before he can leave, blah blah etc…

    It’s really embarrassing that any club can treat an icon who’s given them so much over 20 years so shabbily..
    I’m almost ashamed to say am a Barca fan…

    P.S. some so called fans say Messi was always dictating who and what he wanted in the club.. really?? So why isn’t Neymar back..? Or why was Valverde let go despite the support of the players.. etc??


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