Lionel Messi is a man of few words. The little Argentine from Rosario has never been known for interacting with the media throughout his career-long stay at Barcelona. In fact, prior to becoming the team’s first captain, Messi would often be the first to hit the dressing room following another hat-trick or two in one of his countless on-pitch triumphs.
But all of that changed when Andres Iniesta announced his departure from the club a couple of years back, leaving the ‘capità’ armband for the shy boy from Rosario to take into battle henceforth. And take it he did but in his own introverted and special way. Long gone are the days of Carles Puyol slapping Gerard Pique for lowering his head while Barcelona were four goals in front with seconds to go until the final whistle.
No, Messi leads but he does it in a different way – he leads by example. After all, how can you not be motivated when you see him tear teams apart, giving his all every single game, week in week out? But it appears there’s also only so much this introverted genius can take before bursting himself. And no history with the club can save you then, as Eric Abidal found out just a couple of days ago following his highly controversial interview with Sport.
The ex Barcelona defender and the current sporting director talked at length about Ernesto Valverde’s sacking and the general feeling within the team. But he also went one step too far, essentially pinning Valverde’s sacking on the players who, according to his words, were not working hard enough.
“We watched the games and not the results, but how we played, the tactics, the work of the players who don’t play a lot. I’m focused on those details. Many players weren’t satisfied or working a lot and there was also an internal communication problem. The relationship between the coach and the dressing room has always been good but there are things as an ex-player that I could smell. I told the club what I thought and we reached a decision.”
Messi’s response was swift and sharp as ever, and the Argentine demanded names from Abidal through Instagram, calling for the upper management to start owning their mistakes, just like players do themselves, and to take the responsibility for their own actions. Needles to say, it was something no one expected from him but something that was long in the making.
The general feeling around the club has been rather stale for years now. Ever since they lost Neymar Junior to Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona have been digging themselves deeper and deeper into the gutters, spending incredible sums of money on the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann and Ousmane Dembele but getting nowhere.
Needless to say, the planning on the market and for the team’s future has been horrendous – Coutinho’s arrival ended in flames with him loaned out to Bayern Munich, Dembele is injured more than he plays, we still don’t know whether Griezmann is going to adapt to the team’s style and the likes of Arda Turan, Malcom, Andre Gomes, Paulinho, Aleix Vidal, Paco Alcacer and many more have already been kicked out of the club within more or less just a year after their initial arrival.
Add two horrible Champions League embarrassments – one from Roma and one from Liverpool – to that tally and pair it up with club legends like Puyol and Xavi declining offers from the club and their treatment of Victor Valdes, whose stint in the managerial role was shorter than it takes you to say ‘Mes que un club’, and you get just a fragment of the mess Barcelona are currently in.
At one point in 2017, the situation got so bad that Augusti Benedito, a member of the club, tried to impose the ‘vote of no confidence’, which would essentially dethrone the current hierarchy and force early elections. Ultimately, he failed to get the support of the ‘socis’ – the club members – he needed and the movement ended in flames. But it was Barcelona football club that lost, not just Benedito.
The next elections are scheduled for 2021 but who knows what else can happen in the course of a year. After all, look at how disaster struck in the last couple of months: Luis Suarez and Dembele are likely to miss out on the entirety of the season, Barcelona failed to bring in a striker to compensate for that while also letting their only other options in Abel Ruiz and Carles Perez leave the club, Real Madrid are currently top of the table, Ernesto Valverde has been sacked following bad results, the team overall is thin and feels weaker than it has in previous years. The list goes on and on.
One unfortunate event after the other – bad signings, horrible planning for the future, failures in Europe, injuries, change of management, years of mediocrity and false promises. And yet, they are still here. Why? Simple. Because of Messi.
Messi is the shield behind which they all hide when the going gets tough. He hasn’t won the Champions League for five years running, he’s watched the team crash and burn amidst failed experiments and shortcomings, he’s been a part of soap operas and dramas and yet, we wonder why he’s finally had enough.
The real question should be how on Earth did it take him so long to burst.
This is not anger directed at Abidal and Abidal alone. He’s not the problem, though he might be a part of it. But now, with the Catalan giants on their knees and burning from inside out, the feeling of inevitable doom creeps in. But still, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?
Every great civilisation follows the same patterns – they are born, they rise, they peak and then – they perish and go back into the dark. Just like a wave is simply a part of the sea. Once it hits the rocks on the shore, it breaks. But it’s also never fully gone. Rather, it just goes back into the sea from whence it came.
And then – it rises once more when the time comes. It’s an endless cycle we’re all a part of.
For Barcelona, this had to happen eventually. For years, the sinking ship was stabilised by its captain. He’s been masking their deficiencies, keeping hope alive and carrying them on his back. No more. But while this single event might signal the beginning of the end for the Blaugrana, it also means a new beginning is somewhere around the corner.
The dominoes are falling but this is how progress is being made. Out with the old, in with the new. Messi has always been silent and he’s been taking the hits for everyone while standing tall nonetheless. But when he speaks, the world listens. And now he has spoken.
Are those words going to rise into the hierarchy responsible for this mess? Only time will tell but ultimately Barcelona will fall and rise again – reborn and ready to step into a new era.
All that because Abidal picked his words poorly.
The board tried to pin all the problems on the team once again and with all the power Messi has, it usually always comes down to him – he’s the captain, he’s the leader and he’s the best player on the planet. Abidal, although not directly, was pointing a finger at him too and in a way, they were all hiding behind him once again. Because he would take the fall for them, as he always does.
No one expected him to react to being called out. But he did. And now, they just might feel the consequences.
Because when you come for the King, you better not miss.