How will it be, Barcelona without Messi?
“Magisterial Messi!” “Mercurial Messi!” Comments not too uncommon for the man from Rosario, Lionel Messi’s contribution to FC Barcelona, and football as a whole, is immeasurable. We’ve seen magic happen in front of our eyes with those dazzling dribbles, perfect passes, and glamourous goals, and to this day, at the age of 33, he never fails to amaze us with his spectacular skills. I clearly remember the glorious goal against Bilbao in the Copa del Ray which was proved impossible by science, the Clasico goal with the T-shirt celebration, the ‘Boateng collapse’ against Bayern, and of course, ‘THAT’ goal against Getafe.
Despite this, as a Cule, I want Messi to leave next year. Not because he isn’t capable of providing for the club but just the opposite.
For the past few years, we have been overly dependent on Leo, and one can’t blame the team, he’s just that good. Josep Bartomeu, the ex-president, started well, winning the Treble in the first year and a double in the second and many other competitions with Luis Enrique at the helm leading the team. The ‘Neymar case’ was a damper, but the team held on to win further trophies till the end of Enrique’s term. Then the downfall began, with fans having absolutely no idea what effect all these situations would have in the near future, in a Barcelona without Messi.
The next season, the 2017-18 season was a record-breaking one. Going unbeaten in the league till the very end, when we lost to Levante, and also in the UCL group-stage was a testament of the team’s consistency. Although we started exceptionally well, considering we had lost Enrique and Neymar at once, gaps in our defensive line started to appear. Then the Roma game happened. After a scintillating display in the home game, we let in 3 goals to send Roma through and Barca out of the CL.
I believe the fracturing of the team started in the year 2018, i.e. the latter half of the 2017-18 season, especially after March. Not one clean sheet was kept after March barring one, i.e. the final match of the season against Sociedad. Watching the team play, it was evident that the players were getting old and deserved some rest. We had Iniesta drop in quality, Coutinho not delivering often and cracking under pressure and although Pique and Umtiti tried to hold the defence together, it was clear they couldn’t do everything on their own.
Another loss was that of Paco Alcacer. He was a player in the making and had shown good promise as a replacement to Luis Suarez, who as we all know was not very consistent. To this day, despite signing Griezmann, Dembele, and others, losing Alcacer was a critical moment that acted as a catalyst in the club’s downfall.
Coming to the next season (2018-19), we started dominantly, even winning 8-2 at home against Huesca. We signed a much-needed Lenglet, Arthur, and Vidal, among others. I had my eyes on Vidal since the 2014-15 season when he was in his prime, playing spectacularly for Bayern and then for Juventus. We should have signed him along with Neymar as a possible replacement for Iniesta who was barely delivering in those days. Then, the Liverpool game happened. “Corner taken quickly…Origiiii!!” The faults in our system were out there for the opposition to exploit. I am not going to comment on anything after this day; we all know how pathetic we have been since.
Be it as it may, the blame doesn’t fall only on the manager or the team. It falls on the board more. They had failed to recognize the fact that an over-reliance on Leo was detrimental for the future of the club, a future in which setting up a successful Barcelona without Messi would be the biggest challenge. However, the board patched the temporary, smaller cracks. We were winning not because of good performances or team effort, but because of fluke or a Leo Messi special.
The quality that they had, the responsibility of wearing the badge and the Blaugrana colours, was gone. Gone was the passion which won us games, which made us believe that despite being down in the first half, we could come back to win the match in the other half. We were winning the matches just for the sake of it; there was no creativity in the game, no sentiment or enthusiasm. We became complacent, and why wouldn’t we? We had the magic man!
We didn’t promote youth players enough. Rather than depending on homegrown talent like we used to, we acquired new players to make temporary fixes in the damaged system. The biggest challenge Barcelona without Messi would have to face is that of setting up a team which could implement the style Barcelona is expected to implement. Buying big superstars has only left the club in between two different routes, one being that of abandoning the identity of the club and the other, sticking to it.
The system was so flawed that world-class talented players like Griezmann, Coutinho, and others were unable to perform at the required level, and continue to do so. The esteemed La Masia is no longer what it was because of the club’s terrible and at times catastrophic management.
THE FUTURE: BARCELONA WITHOUT MESSI
The new manager seems to have his priorities set, play the youth as much as possible. No wonder players like Ansu Fati, Rique Puig, and Konrad de la Fuente have been displaying spectacular football when given the opportunity. They are the only ray of hope to Cules around the world, for the nightmare that is very much close to reality, a Barcelona without Messi. Fresh talent from young players like Frenkie de Jong, Pedri, Dest, and Junior Firpo has also rejuvenated the club. Even Martin Braithwaite has impressed, albeit to the best of his capabilities.
In the coming future, I do not expect any trophies or even victories. That is the cost of rebuilding the team from the ground up, something that I hope the new manager can do well. We need to shift our focal point from Messi and learn to win without his inputs. The manager is trying and is succeeding in making the team independent of the charismatic man. As Culers, we need to put our faith in the new manager and not vilify him for the losses. The team needs our backing, and we must give them everything. After all, Mes Que un Club.