It must be 5:00 PM somewhere in the world. That’s what I tell myself as I pour a stiff glass of whiskey over ice before the sun sets on a gloomy day in my city. I sit in the corner of my room, curtains drawn and blocking out the world outside as 2020 delivers yet another hammer blow to happiness.
I thought the ‘new normal’ was about sitting in short pants and having longer days than ever before, now I face up to the daunting new normal without Lionel Messi at FC Barcelona. After a shambolic season full of politics, mud-slinging, name calling and half-hearted attempts at course correction – FC Barcelona have been rocked to their core by their icon, the talisman and heart of the team announcing his intention to pack his bags and leave Catalunya behind.
Storm clouds gather in the distance and a wisp of smoke rises from the ash tray as I contemplate the sporting ramifications of this marvel of science wanting to move on from the football club I have supported all my life. The mesmeric movement of the vapors catches my eye and reminds me of the times that Argentine wizard danced through defenders as if they were merely mild obstacles to the wind as it conquered the world. Trophy after trophy, highlight reels that could span the planet multiple times if laid out back to back; and now we sit on the cusp of an ugly divorce. Just like when an alcoholic is faced with the reality of the damage, to both his wallet and his liver as he faces sunshine for the first time in hours.
Over twenty years have elapsed since a contract was hurriedly signed by FC Barcelona with a young Leo Messi on a napkin, of all things. Today, as he uses bureaufax to inform the club of his intent to leave – on a free transfer no less – no amount of wiping will stem the tide of tears. And I cry, not just for Messi, but for a football club so grossly mismanaged that this seemed inevitable.
A billion euros spent in the span of half a decade to bolster a team seems amazing on paper, with each attacking signing theoretically bringing ammunition to that diminutive Argentine general, that leader among men, that alien on the football pitch – to let him do what he does best. But the Antoine Griezmann’s and the Phillipe Coutinho’s of the world are of no significance when played in a system they do not belong to. When the club’s directors are more concerned with reach and revenue than with trophies and triumphs, the saying ‘Mes Que en Club’ holds less water than ever before.
Put into the context of the ‘Bartomeu Era’, the slogan for FC Barcelona is a mockery. The first non-elected president of Barca has surely left the club in ruins beyond what anyone could have possibly imagined. In the wild world of 2020, I refuse to rule out that Josep Maria Bartomeu is in fact a double-agent for Real Madrid. After all, if they can confirm aliens and other conspiracies can float around, what’s another one to add to the pile of burning shit that is this year.
As the first of my drinks comes slowly to an end, I am reminded that a mere top up is not enough. It needs to be more, the entire bottle meets my mouth as I take a massive swig of self-pity. 25th August, 2020 shall always be remembered as a dark day in the history of FC Barcelona – the day when the man who always rescued us, who always stayed away from politics and from the media eye finally had enough – he finally sent the transfer request that rocked the world.
Historically of course, Lionel Messi has set precedents in 2020 like never before. Dropping deeper on the field to create more and dropping deeper into the politics at the Camp Nou, the Argentine has had enough of a football club that has wasted his absolute peak. Separated from his friend Neymar, he had enough when the club claimed the players were behind the sacking of Ernesto Valverde. Cue: the egg on the face for an entire club who could not even convince their own former player, who was their third choice anyway for the managerial role, to join the bench. This was swiftly followed up by the dreaded coronavirus enforced break in which it emerged that Bartomeu had paid serious dinero to an online agency to smear the names of Barca legends and current players. Cue: the sad music as the football club saw several board members resign and accusations of ‘someone having their hands in the club treasury’ emerging.
Only a year as frustrating and insane as 2020 could see the greatest player of a generation put in a transfer request. A move designed to finally position Messi at the center of the politics of the boardroom. If he stays, he is effectively running the club from the top down. And all Barca fans right now accept that, in the best of circumstances, they would rather Messi be all-powerful than line up against a team that contains their beloved in the starting XI.
If Leo Messi leaves, the implications will be massive. Bartomeu should have resigned immediately following the humiliation in Lisbon at the hands of Bayern Munich. Instead, Abidal and Setien became inevitable scapegoats and the genius president effectively put the squad up for sale. I know little about business, but I know that telling the world you want desperately to be rid of your wares is the last way to turn some profit. He hired Koeman, a fine coach for a mid-table side but one who has never before handled the egos and the expectations of a club the stature of FC Barcelona. And Messi, probably on a beach somewhere with the love of his life, sent the fax that confirmed that the once-great Barca will be just that – a mid-table team – next season. He has had enough. What promised to be the most iconic era at Barca has ended, five years later, with losing two stars in the name of one egotistical president who cannot be bothered to admit he is at fault and his failings are those of the club itself.
Somewhere in the world, it’s 5:00 PM as Bartomeu thinks of resigning from his post as president. Perhaps elections will see Messi withdraw his transfer request. Perhaps, by quitting at the last possible moment, Bartomeu will finally secure Barcelona the finest signing in ages – the continuation of the Lionel Messi love story at FC Barcelona.