With Barcelona releasing a statement announcing captain Lionel Messi will not be renewing his contract with the Blaugrana, the whole football climate has been left in a state of disarray.
The magnificent maestro from Rosario, Santa Fe arrived in Catalonia as a boy and looks to be departing as the greatest footballer not only of his generation but perhaps of all time. With the betting exchange tipping him for pastures new, one can only ponder where the little magician will end up.
For now, though, there is something emotional and nuanced about Messi’s departure from the Camp Nou. For all of Barcelona’s current financial difficulties and their uncertainty regarding the future, they have provided us with some wonderful memories over the years, here are just a few of them spearheaded by the great Lionel Messi.
Champions League finals
Barcelona’s Champions League escapades would be something of folklore now had they not been captured on the world’s biggest stage. The two performances against Manchester United, in 2009 and 2011 respectively, led Pep Guardiola’s men to be remembered as one of the best club sides in history. Despite playing two very strong United sides, one featuring a certain Cristiano Ronaldo, the blend of Barca’s La Decima graduates coupled with the individual brilliance of Messi simply overwhelmed Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. Their sleek passing with an interchangeable 4-3-3 meant United were constantly out of possession, and even at Wembley when Wayne Rooney equalized in the second game, you always felt Barça would go on and win. The key moment that is most poignant though is Messi’s header in Rome. At such a young age, you feel this is the moment he really defined himself as the world’s best.
Most goals in a year
91 goals. The Argentine scored 91 goals in a single calendar year in 2012. hitting the absolute ceiling of individual performance, and then burst right through it. On his way to another Ballon d’Or, Messi’s goalscoring antics were turned up a notch as he consistently found the back of the net in a variety of ways. Regardless of his diminutive stature, Messi’s strength and low centre of gravity always assisted him, so the diversity of goals is the most shocking part. Headers, volleys, individual dribbles, he could do it all and would continue to remain consistent almost a decade later.
The Blaugrana were in something of a rut at the end of the 2013/14 season. Having just lost the league on the final day to Atlético Madrid and went out with a whimper in the Champions League, changes needed to be made. New manager Luis Enrique recruited eccentric Uruguayan Luis Suárez to support the already formidable frontline of Messi and Neymar. Together, the triumvirate captured the treble in their first season, scoring a plethora of goals with Messi the main talisman. The MSN (Messi, Suarez and Neymar) is arguably the greatest front three of all time with Messi at the forefront, a single moment of the club’s dominance personified by Messi’s solo goal against Athletic Club Bilbao in the Supercopa de España.
After Andrés Iniesta left Catalonia in 2018, it was Messi garnered the responsibility of being the club’s next captain. Although he may not have delivered on his promise of returning the Champions League to the Camp Nou, he has still been the standout player in an otherwise subpar Barcelona side, which is in danger of fading into mediocrity upon the Argentine’s departure. Since becoming skipper, Messi has helped nurture the next generation of talent on the conveyor belt at La Masia —including Pedri and Carles Aleñá. But this is the best player of all time and he needs to be surrounded by players worthy of his caliber. Where he will end up is still up in the air, but his legacy at Barcelona will be cemented in the history books permanently.