Updated on September 23rd, 2021 at 09:55 pm
Without Messi, how can Barcelona progress?
At first, both in the Barcelona players’ WhatsApp group and on social media, there was silence. But, as the shock wore off, the tributes and farewells began to arrive.
This was genuine, and it was happening right now. Carles Puyol, the club’s former captain, was the first to congratulate Lionel Messi for everything he has done for the club. The current squad then began to post.
“I was fortunate enough to be present at your first goal against Albacete at Camp Nou in 2005, and I never imagined we would be so close that we could understand each other just by looking at each other,” Jordi Alba wrote.
Sergi Roberto commented, “Eternally grateful.” “Thank you for all the happiness you’ve brought us, for all the goals you’ve scored, and for all the moments you’ve helped me live.”
While nobody could believe Messi’s 21-year stay at Barcelona was coming to an end, that he would no longer be accompanying his teammates for training or receiving the proper farewell, the club must now look forward, and soon.
How Barcelona would cope without Messi has been a topic of discussion in recent years, especially since the club’s reliance on him has grown since Neymar’s departure.
With the Argentine set to join his former teammate in Paris, Barcelona will have to adjust to life without their greatest legend, who was seemed set to stay for another two years.
Of course, if Barcelona fails to score, the natural reaction is to remark how much they need Messi, but there are two possible outcomes in the medium to long term, one positive and one negative.
Messi’s presence has long been suspected of inhibiting his colleagues, who are apprehensive about playing alongside one of the game’s greatest icons. For example, Antoine Griezmann has appeared to struggle alongside Messi, and the three players, along with Philippe Coutinho, often tried to operate in identical positions, resulting in Barcelona being small and spaces being impossibly tight.
Similarly, Messi’s general inability to effectively press means Barcelona can’t operate in a system that relies on it, especially when Luis Suarez was also at the club. That can now change, though Memphis Depay will be forced to shoulder more defensive responsibilities than he would like.
Messi’s penchant to wander and drop deep for the ball has long been accommodated by the system at Barcelona, but now Ronald Koeman is free to play with any structure he wants, and no player will be too powerful to follow it.
“No player is bigger than the club,” president Joan Laporta remarked, but Messi was for the past decade.
There were been concerns about Memphis’ risk-taking attitude, but now he can focus on being the team’s creative leader, while Griezmann can play in the second striker role he has long sought.
Messi’s departure bodes well for Barcelona’s younger attackers and playmakers, with Alex Collado, Yusuf Demir, and Riqui Puig among those who could benefit. Ansu Fati is back from injury, Kun Aguero can score if he’s fit, and Ousmane Dembele will be a wonderful winter addition once his injury heals.
Barcelona has long needed to rebuild, but it’s been difficult to do so with Messi still at the helm at 34 years old. Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, and Sergio Busquets continue to lead the midfield, while youngsters Gavi and Nico Gonzalez are making good development.
Barcelona now has the foundation to launch an exciting new project, free of Messi’s exorbitant wages, which would have remained exorbitant even if he had agreed to a 50% pay cut. In Messi’s absence, that’s how things could go for Barcelona.
Things could, though, change in a different direction. There is a risk that the club will self-destruct. Laporta still needs to make cutbacks and get high-earning players like Samuel Umtiti and Miralem Pjanic off the team, and if he can’t, they may end up in Koeman’s squads.
Fans, who were permitted to reclaim a tiny portion of Camp Nou at the start of the season, may turn on players who refused to take pay cuts, seeing them as part of the reason Messi had to depart.
Losing Messi would be a massive emotional blow to the squad, the club, and the fans, and it would be easy for Barcelona to fall into even deeper depression, especially if he joins one of their biggest rivals outside of Spain.
They had already been pushed out of the European elite and may now be even further isolated. Sponsorship arrangements are likely to reduce in value in the future as brands realize their names will not be proudly displayed on the Argentine’s chest or sleeve, putting the club’s finances at risk.
With Busquets and Gerard Pique in their late years and fading, Eric Garcia and Emerson virtually untested at Champions League level, and Koeman now needing to devise a new strategy that does not contain the best player in the world, there are a lot of sporting unknowns entering into the season.
When Messi broke his arm and was out for a month in 2018, Gerard Pique said, “Psychologically, we know that when he is there, we are stronger, but we cannot allow his absence to affect us.”
Now that he’s gone for good, Barcelona must maintain the same mindset in order to withstand Messi’s departure.