It still feels like it was yesterday that a young, up-and-coming player travelled half of the world to chase his dream.
Lionel Messi is the epitome of a “leap of faith” if there ever was one. He never knew Barcelona would take him: he was small, fragile, scared, shy and, more importantly, had a growing disorder that required him to inject hormones into his body on a daily basis.
Messi had something that separated him from most: he had a meteoric, potentially unprecedented talent. And to cut a long story short, he is now one of the most recognisable footballing personas on the planet and sits in the Catalans’ pantheon alongside Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff, forever to be immortalised in the footballing annals following his retirement.
But that brings us to the issue at hand: what happens after that? Do Barcelona just plummet into oblivion and submit the Spanish throne to Real Madrid? One way or the other, we cannot deny that they will be a very different team without the Argentine magician. That much is pretty clear.
But it’s also pretty difficult not to rely on the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. And why wouldn’t you? You have the best player on the planet, arguably of all time, in your squad so why not take advantage of it? But that’s not the problem here, is it? The problem arises once you become so used to having him around that you forget that there will, inevitably, come a time when you simply won’t have a choice. Messi is 32 now and with his abilities and undying desire and talent, it’s fairly possible that he can still go on for quite some time. But not forever.
And luckily for Barcelona, they seem to be aware of that. At least, that’s what Josep Maria Bartomeu, Barcelona’s president, had to say when he faced the media recently, and despite the obvious concern about the post-Messi era among the fans, the club have been preparing for it for quite some time.
The most recent purchases of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and Ousmane Dembele attest to that.
Of course, it will be difficult to replicate Messi’s contributions since none of these players are quite on that level but Barcelona will once again, whether they like it or not, become a team. For now, they still have their “cheat code” to pull them from the gutters when the times are tough but sooner or later, they will be forced to survive without him. That means that everyone will have to pull their weight and there will be no place for slacking and certainly no place for excuses.
Sure, it sounds a bit harsh but Barcelona’s post-Messi era will be a wake-up call for the Catalans. This has been brewing for quite some time, even with Messi in the squad. One man might get you your domestic dominance and he might even get you far in Europe but, from the looks of it, not all the way. After all, football is a team sport and whether you have Messi or not, it’s very much 11 against 11.
At first, of course, it may take some time for Barcelona to adapt but once they re-learn how to work together, how to rely on each other and, more importantly, support each once they’re out of the Messi comfort zone.
This will also take more than just adjustments on the pitch. Recently, Barcelona have been among the biggest spenders in Europe and this trend only started in recent years. And interestingly enough, those were the years when Messi entered his 30s. Coincidence? Hardly so.
Barcelona might have been searching for the next player to carry the torch after Messi. They used to believe that particular someone was Neymar, but we know how that ended. Of course, the Brazilian is now once again reportedly close to his big return but, with his injury record, there’s no telling if he’ll be a worthy successor to the throne.
Regardless of that, this is not the first time Barcelona are facing the loss of a highly influential figure at the club. From Cruyff to Rivaldo to Ronaldinho and now to Messi. There has always been someone to continue their tradition and lead the Blaugrana troops to glory.
It’s not plausible to suggest the next Messi is just around the corner. That kind of a player is a one in a billion type of footballer but maybe that’s for the best.
After all, Barcelona were at their most dominant in the Pep Guardiola era during a period of time when the spotlight was pretty much on the team as a whole. Sure, Messi was leading the line but it was the collective that conquered the world. So maybe it wouldn’t be absurd to say that there are still many things to look forward to after he hangs up his boots.
It will be a rather sad day for all the Cules, granted, but that moment might just be the next step in Barcelona’s development as a team.
In many ways, it will be like riding a bike once again after a really, really long time. You might fall and bruise your knee here and there, but after a while, you realise that you never lost it.
You just had to refresh your memory.
And as for Barcelona, they will have to remember how to be a team once again. But that shouldn’t be a problem.
It’s just like riding a bike, right?