Leo and Barca: End of A Love Story

By Santu Mukherjee and Deep Guha

You need to scout the whole world to find someone who might not know the name, Lionel Messi. And even then, you might not find someone who doesn’t. For the last few decades, Messi along with Cristiano Ronaldo, has dominated world football to such an extent they have become unofficial faces representing the sport. But when we are talking about Messi, two names have to come into the conversation, one is FC Barcelona because without FCB, Messi might not be the footballing juggernaut that he is and the other is Celia Olivera Cuccittini, Leo’s grandma. As a kid, Messi found his greatest supporter in his grandmother, Celia, who was always around to see him play and push him forward, and it is to her whom Messi dedicates all his goals when he points up to the sky. It would not be outrageous to say that every football fan should be thankful to this wonderful woman.

But Messi’s route to global domination wouldn’t be a quick climb. He suffered from medical problems and all clubs who told him they would handle the situation financially, rescinded their promises, but FCB came to the rescue. In his initial year in Barcelona, Messi was going through a transfer conflict with Newells, he had trouble blending in the new location, the FCB board of directors hesitated to sign him but Charly Rexach came to the rescue, showed faith in the future GOAT, and signed him by making a contract out of a napkin. Although Messi showed brilliance from an early stage, his journey to becoming the GOAT wasn’t easy. Just think about the players that he had to share his locker room with, Iniesta, Xavi, Ronaldinho, Henry, Eto’o, Villa, and many more. All of these players are in a league of their own, but not being stuck in their shadow takes an unprecedented amount of skill which can be seen only once in a lifetime. While Messi’s achievements with the Argentinian National team always came under fire until now, his individual genius shined when he played with his club.

So let’s talk about Messi and Barcelona. A love story that is written in golden ink in the annals of World football. A love story that everyone thought would never come to an end. With Barcelona, Messi won 4 UEFA Champions Leagues, 10 La Liga titles, 7 Copa del Rey honours, 3 UEFA Super Cups, 3 FIFA Club World Cups, 7 Supercopa de Españas, and the coveted Ballon d'Or a record 6 times along with many other individual and collective honours. And he didn’t just end at that, who can forget about the magical moments that Messi created for his millions and millions of fans to enjoy. Like that Clasico hat-trick against Real Madrid in 2007, or the clubs first Treble of the 2008/09 season, or the numerous belters of the MSN trio, or that freekick against Liverpool in 2019 which was also his 600th goal overall. But at the end of his time at Barca, things started to go awry at the club. Back to back unsuccessful UCL campaigns since 2015 as well as unsuccessful La Liga campaigns since the 2018-2019 season resulted in frustration for both the club and the fans. But as Messi said in his farewell press conference, “But in fact, people can remember me whatever way they choose. Titles and also defeats made us grow, we had more happy moments than unhappy.” And nothing else could be more true.

Nothing lasts forever, and Barca fans have found it out the hard way. After many speculations regarding Messi's future, the news was finally broken to the public. “Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona”, read a part of the official statement. While the club and Messi’s relation was sour in the near past, which resulted in that transfer block, it was thought both the club and the player have come to a mutual understanding, and a favourable outcome would be reached. But as soon as the news of Messi hit the web, reactions started to pour in. Fans worldwide went in a frenzy. The unimaginable had happened. But why? Why would FC Barcelona not do everything in their power to keep their biggest asset? Well, the easiest explanation is that FC Barcelona couldn’t keep Messi because of La Liga regulations. But the matter runs deeper than that. La Liga’s Finacial Fair Play(FFP) rules dictate that every club has an expenditure cap where a club must keep the player wage and talent acquisition limit equal to the club’s 70% of the revenue amount. Meaning if a club has a revenue amount of Rs.100, they can spend only Rs.70 behind player wage and acquisition. This is where matters get tricky. FC Barcelona has a humongous debt on its shoulders, rumoured to be around 1 billion euros, and the pandemic or the stupendous spending on result-less transfer market deals haven’t made it easy. That means the pay cut that Messi was ready to take to stay at his church wouldn’t have mattered much. He had to go. Another aspect to this is the La Liga-CVC deal, which might’ve been enough to keep Messi at Camp Nou, but both FC Barcelona and Real Madrid have been in staunch opposition to the deal. While some are speculating that the deal is actually a bad one, others think that both Real Madrid and FC Barcelona are protesting because it will lock their possibility of reviving the European Super League.

But Messi’s departure means a lot of things for a lot of people. Barcelona’s attempt to subtly pin Leo Messi’s departure on La Liga, and in turn on Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional, might not sit well with the fans while it is also possible that this might start a series of change reactions where La Liga might have to revamp their rules and more. Whereas the talk of TV rights go, the league’s new deals with ESPN and Viacom18(in India) might take a hit, although that is unlikely.

In the end, there is only one thing that matters, which is, Messi in teary eyes, has bid farewell to the Catalan giants for greener pastures and as fans of the sport and the man, all we can do is hope for the best and trust the GOAT to entertain us with his magic.