It goes without saying that Lionel Messi is the single most important entity in Barcelona’s squad and arguably, their whole rich history as a club. The little alien from Argentina, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner and Blaugrana’s talisman, often carries the team on his shoulders.
But could it be that this over-reliance on Messi and the indescribable impact he has is actually hindering the way new players are incorporated into the squad and even dictates whether or not they are successful upon arrival?
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Of course, he will hardly make the signing of a defender or a holding midfielder difficult but when it comes to attacking-minded players, Messi’s sheer presence limits the pool of names that are available to Barcelona.
His natural position is on the right-wing so that is immediately off the list but the Argentine drifts inside and often occupies the whole area where usually an attacking midfielder or a no.10 would operate.
This means that players who usually thrive there are relegated to other positions. Think of Philippe Coutinho who failed at Barcelona for that same reason or maybe even Antoine Griezmann, who’s currently having a good run with eight goals and four assists in 2019/20, but has been forced to play on the left as opposed to being a second-striker or a false nine – the role he enjoyed as France won the World Cup – as evidenced by Transfermarkt.
Messi makes Barcelona who they are and in so many ways, he is Barcelona – his individual style of play, the invention, the movement, the speed, the technique and the audacity encapsulates the club’s identity since his emergence under Pep Guardiola. But he’s also making their lives in the transfer market that much more difficult.
Recent reports coming from L’Esportiu state the Catalans might go head to head with Chelsea for the signing of Dani Olmo, a red-hot midfielder from Dinamo Zagreb.
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For Frank Lampard, this piece of business would boost his squad with another long-term prospect to work with, like youngsters Christian Pulisic, Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham. After all, the 21-year-old has already bagged eight goals and assisted seven across all competitions in 2019/20 and even managed to rattle the inside of the net in the Champions League as well.
But Barcelona should tread lightly – the warning signs are there as Coutinho and Griezmann can testify.
Messi could stand in the way of Olmo’s successful incorporation into the team. Of course, the youngster is only 21 while the Argentine is on the wrong side of his 30s, so perhaps there is a pathway for the former to ultimately succeed the latter. But would Blaugrana really make such huge changes to accommodate Olmo’s arrival, and when would that completely theoretical change come? From the outside looking in, it seems as though only Messi will decide when his time at the club will come to an end.
For that reason, maybe it’s not yet time for the one-time Masia product to return to Catalonia.
Meanwhile, Chelsea should resist the urge to cash in on their ageing star in January…