Lionel Messi to leave Barcelona? The Argentine is calling for change and a better sporting project at Camp Nou

Ben Hayward
·5-min read
Getty Images
Getty Images

It has been a miserable week for fans of Futbol Club Barcelona.

Supporters have seen a two-point lead over fierce rivals Real Madrid in LaLiga turned into a four-point deficit, witnessed a popular player sold in order to balance the books and read stories that their coach may be sacked before the end of the season.

The worst, however, was yet to come. On Thursday night, Cadena SER reported that Lionel Messi will not sign a new contract with the Catalan club, and will walk away for free when his deal expires in 2021.

Messi is, many agree at this point, the finest footballer in history. And at Barca, the Argentine has been a beacon of hope and excitement in times of chaos on and off the pitch.

The thought that he will be gone by this time next year is a depressing one and would represent a desperately unhappy ending to a beautiful story which has changed football forever.

But there is no need for fans to panic just yet.

It is true that Messi is unhappy. Frustrated, too. The Argentine is tired of reports, which he believes have been leaked from the club, that he calls the shots, hires and fires coaches and imposes his opinions on others.

Earlier this year, the captain hit back publicly at claims from sporting director Eric Abidal that the players had not been training properly under previous coach Ernesto Valverde.

Later, a Catalan radio show alleged that Barca's board were paying a social media company to protect the reputation of president Josep Maria Bartomeu and attack key figures linked to the club, including Gerard Pique and Messi himself.

Messi has a year left on his remaining deal. (Getty Images)
Messi has a year left on his remaining deal. (Getty Images)

On top of that, Messi and his team-mates released a joint statement at the end of March, in which they revealed they had been open to wage cuts in the break due to Covid-19, despite reports to the contrary which had appeared in the Catalan media and which seemed to have emanated directly from the club.

Then there was the planning of the squad. Messi refused to answer when asked his opinion on the possible arrival of Antoine Griezmann last May. He had wanted Neymar to return and admitted he did not know if Barca had done all they could to bring back the Brazilian from Paris Saint-Germain.

Since Neymar left for €222 million, Barca have spent over €350m on replacing him. None of the three players brought in have worked: Philippe Coutinho is now on loan at Bayern Munich; Ousmane Dembele has been up and down and has endured an injury nightmare; and Griezmann is not even a guaranteed starter any more.

This team has claimed the LaLiga title in eight of the past 11 seasons, but looks set to miss out this time. And even Messi has admitted that, playing as they were prior to the break enforced by coronavirus, Barca will not win the Champions League.

Standard Sport understands that Messi is not convinced by Quique Setien, brought in to replace Valverde in January, despite being only third or four choice. And the Argentine appeared to ignore instructions from Setien's fiery assistant Eder Sarabia in last weekend's 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo.

But Messi's life is in Barcelona and had he been truly unhappy, he could have exercised a clause in his contract and walked away for free at the end of June. He did not.

With a year to run on his current contract, it makes sense for Messi to wait. There is no hurry to put pen to paper yet and understandably, the Argentine is keen to see what the next sporting project will look like at Camp Nou.

(REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

"I don't want a long contract and to stay because I have a contract, but because I want to be in good shape physically, to play, to be important, and see that there is a winning project," he said last September.

Asked if that was a condition to him seeing out his career at Camp Nou, he said: "Of course. I want to win. And I want to win with this club. This is my home. I have no intention of moving, but I want to keep competing and winning."

Next summer will bring with it a new project because presidential elections will take place at Camp Nou. Bartomeu cannot stand again after two terms, although there will be a candidate from the current board, while Joan Laporta is ready to run once more and Catalan businessman Victor Font has been working for years on plans for change at Camp Nou.

Font is supported by Xavi and the former midfielder said this week that he is preparing to return as coach. His arrival, with Font (or Laporta) would likely see Barca return to core values in terms of playing style and promoting youngsters from La Masia.

But Messi, more than anything else, wants to win and recruitment of new players who can help him to achieve his goals will also be high on his list of priorities.

Meanwhile, Barcelona is his home and he has expressed doubts about uprooting his family, with his wife and three young boys settled and content in the Catalan capital.

A return to Argentina with boyhood club Newell's appears unlikely at this stage of his career, with Messi having turned 33 last month.

Manchester City would be a good fit in sporting terms, and would see a remarkable reunion with Pep Guardiola, but last season's Premier League champions are currently banned from the Champions League for two years and the European competition remains a key objective for Messi.

The six-time Ballon d'Or winner will not allow himself to be used as a political tool by any presidential candidate, but this latest bombshell seems less like a real intention to quit Barca and more a message to the club and also its members to bring about positive change next summer and a winning project to give him a glorious finale in his twilight years at Camp Nou.

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