It’s hard to imagine that Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer of his generation, a player who has been the living embodiment of Barcelona football club for fifteen years, might be on the brink of quitting the club that turned him into a megastar. Yet here we are.
Messi made his league debut in the 2004/05 season, though he has been at Barcelona since 2000, as part of the youth setup, and starred for the Barca youth team in the 02/03 season. As a youngster Messi was considered too small and weak to be a competitive footballer, but he defied the critics over and over again, proving himself in the various junior categories, and immediately impressing his first-team teammates when he began to break into the squad. Indeed, Brazilian legend Ronaldinho took Messi under his wing, certain that one day the Argentine would be a greater player than even he was.
History may well agree. Lionel Messi has made 485 senior appearances for Barcelona since 2004. He has scored 444 goals in those appearances, which is an astonishing, almost frightening statistic. Messi’s goal-scoring feats are the result of some impeccable ball-control skills and a clever reading of the game – he can either dribble past an opponent or dink a perfectly-weighted pass to a teammate, run quickly into space and receive the ball again, before drilling a beautifully placed strike beyond the reach of the ‘keeper.
Not only does Messi score plenty of goals, but his aforementioned ability to play wonderfully timed passes means Messi is also amazing at creating goals as well. His skill and pace on the ball, not to mention how he will draw in several opposing players, creates space and opportunities for his teammates to exploit, but Messi cannot be left alone – he is too good. In short, his mere presence can unsettle an opposing team.
Yet all is not well. Lionel Messi remains one of the best in the world, but he is despondent. He has given his entire career to Spanish giants Barcelona, but Barcelona are suddenly not the almighty force that they were. With Messi at the fore, Barcelona have won ten La Liga titles, four Champions League trophies and six Copas del Rey. Messi’s 444 goals are a La Liga record, he has the most hat-tricks in La Liga and the Champions League, and the most La Liga assists. There’s little question that Messi has been a key component of Barcelona’s success over the past decade. However, the club is not what it was, with successive collapses in the Champions League (mostly recently the 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich, and blowing a 3-0 aggregate lead over Liverpool the year before) hurting Messi. He has carried the team in recent years, as the once glittering line-up of stars has aged and the club hasn’t replaced them for one reason or another. It seems Messi is now tired of doing so.
He’s put in a transfer request. Whether or not he actually goes is another matter, as the club will be desperate for him to stay. Messi brings a tremendous level of prestige and revenue to Barcelona, not to mention providing the team with their best chances of victory. However Messi doesn’t want that weight upon him anymore. It will be fascinating to see if he does leave, and where he goes.