Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona would be the biggest and most shocking transfer in football history — but it would make perfect sense for everyone
- Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona would be the biggest transfer ever in football — both in financial value and sheer gravity.
- Selling probably the best player who has ever lived doesn't make much sense at first glance.
- However, for both Barcelona and Messi himself, striking a deal to take him away from Spain would ultimately be a good thing.
- Messi leaving would allow Barcelona to undertake the rebuild they desperately need to return to the top of world football.
- For Messi, joining another team would help secure his legacy as the greatest player of all time and reunite him with two of the most important figures in his career.
- In short, Messi should leave Barcelona and never look back.
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Lionel Messi shocked the sporting world this week by announcing his intention to leave FC Barcelona after almost two decades.
If he does leave, which is looking increasingly likely, Messi's departure would be the biggest transfer ever in football — both in financial value and sheer gravity — and bring down the curtain on possibly the greatest club dynasty in the sport's history.
It will also make perfect sense, and almost certainly end up being good news for everyone involved.
A decade and a half of dominance is over
Since Messi's debut in 2004, Barcelona has won La Liga 10 times out of a possible 16, won the Champions League four times, and the Spanish domestic cup, the Copa del Rey, six times. During that time, the club also pioneered a new football style — tiki-taka — which went on to dominate pitches around the world and was employed by the vast majority of successful professional sides for a number of years.
On a personal level, while at Barcelona, Messi has won six Ballons d'Or, more than anyone else in history — and broken pretty much every scoring record. He has scored 634 goals for Barcelona, more than any other player in club football history.
There is no way of looking at Messi's time at Barcelona as anything other than a total success. However, to put it simply, Messi and Barcelona have come to the end of their road together.
Barcelona needs a total rebuild, and it doesn't need the distraction of Messi
Messi is still one of, if not, the best player in global football, but he's also a player on a downward trajectory.
At 33, he still has several years left as a pro, but he's just come off his worst season in over a decade when it comes to goals scored, and the characteristics that have made him arguably football's GOAT are in decline.
He has always relied on pace, agility, and incredible technical skill. While the skill is still there, his agility and sheer speed are starting to deteriorate and will keep doing so as a physiological certainty.
The start of Messi's decline towards retirement coincides with a period in time in which Barcelona itself is probably the worst it has been in terms of overall quality during the time Messi has been at the club.
Since losing Brazilian star Neymar to Paris Saint Germain in 2017, Barcelona has looked less and less elite as a team, culminating in its humiliating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich earlier this month — an event which apparently prompted Messi to decide it is time to move to new pastures.
After gaining a reputation for its transfer policy's success, in recent seasons, the club has made a series of ill-thought-out, expensive signings that have not yielded success. Last summer's $140 million signing of France's Antoine Griezmann and the February of Danish journeyman Martin Braithwaite are just two examples of profligate, hasty transfers in recent years.
The club has also turned away from its famous La Masia academy somewhat, with just four of the starting eleven against Bayern coming through the academy.
Effectively, to reach success — aka winning the Champions League for the first time in six years — the team needs to be completely rebuilt from the ground. Rebuilding a team on the foundation of a 33-year old who pretty clearly doesn't want to be there makes very little sense.
Not only is Messi too old to build a new team around, but he's also too much of a distraction.
With him at the club, Barcelona would have to focus its attacking play and system around Messi, and constantly make sure he is happy, as it has done ever since he emerged as the world's best player.
As has become clear in recent weeks, the effort and energy required to do that are no longer worth it.
Barcelona would be better advised to cut its losses, cash in on Messi (contract dispute permitting), and rebuild the team around younger stars like Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong.
Messi can cement himself as the greatest of all time with a move
For the player himself, leaving Barcelona makes almost as much sense as it does for the club. Messi has won everything he could possibly win at Barcelona, and quite frankly, he could do with a new challenge — particularly if he wants to cement his place as the greatest football player of all time.
As it stands, there are two realistic options of where Messi could go on leaving Barcelona, both of which have compelling cases to attract him, and ones that go far beyond any rationale for staying in Spain.
Manchester City: A reunion with the best manager he ever had
The first is the English Premier League side Manchester City. The big attraction here is the manager, Pep Guardiola. Guardiola, the father of tiki-taka, is undoubtedly Messi's favourite ever manager, and the one with whom he enjoyed the most success.
"Guardiola is the best of all," Messi said in a 2019 interview.
Messi played under Guardiola for four years, winning three La Liga titles, two Champions Leagues, two Spanish Cups, and four Ballons d'Or.
The Argentine's admiration for Guardiola runs so deep that he reportedly let the City manager know of his plan to leave Barcelona before he'd even told the club.
That admiration is mutual, with Guardiola calling Messi "the best player I have ever seen and probably the best I will see."
Joining Manchester City would not only give Messi the chance to link up with his favorite coach but also prove himself in the Premier League, which is widely regarded as the toughest, most physical league in elite football.
For years, Messi's doubters have questioned whether he could perform at such a high level on a "wet Tuesday night in Stoke" — a stereotypical scene of a character-building cold, rainy winter's eve in an anonymous English town. If he signs for City, he could finally prove that he can do just that.
Paris Saint Germain: Linking back up with an old friend
If he does leave Barcelona, Messi's other option is to move to French champions and Champions League runners-up Paris Saint Germain.
What would most likely draw Messi to Paris is his former teammate Neymar.
Messi and Brazilian star Neymar played together between 2013 and 2017, a time in which Neymar became one of the world's top players, winning a treble with Barca and finishing 3rd in the voting for the 2015 Ballon d'Or, aged just 23.
During that time, they became great friends, and Messi has spoken numerous times since Neymar moved to France of his desire to bring the Brazilian back to Barcelona.
Neymar wants Messi to come to Paris too, with the star reportedly begging bosses of the Qatari-owned club to sign his friend and former teammate.
Messi vs. Ronaldo finally decided?
Signing for either Paris or Manchester would also give Messi a great chance of winning one or more extra Champions League trophies. Both clubs have strongly targeted the tournament in recent years, admittedly without much success.
Winning another Champions League or two would help Messi cement his place above his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo in the standings of best players in history.
Ronaldo has won the Champions League five times — once with Manchester United, and four times with Real Madrid — while Messi has won the tournament four times with a single club.
Portuguese star Ronaldo has also won league championships in three countries (England, Spain, and Italy) to Messi's one.
Although Messi's superior number of Ballons d'Or — six to Ronaldo's five — means he is generally considered a greater player than Ronaldo, winning domestic and European silverware with a team from either England or France would effectively settle that debate.
Messi leaving Barcelona would be undoubtedly tough for all involved.
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Barcelona would lose the best player it has ever had, while Messi would be leaving the only team he's played professional football for, the only job he has ever had as an adult, and the city he has lived in for almost two decades.
Ultimately, however, Messi and Barcelona is a story that has reached its end. Both parties should admit it, say goodbye, and move on.
It is for the best.