Reports: Lionel Messi set to leave Barcelona after 19 years

Barcelona’s captain Lionel Messi looks dejected during his side’s Champions League – Quarter Final game against Bayern Munich at the Estadio da Luz, Lisbon, Portugal, August 14, 2020. Barcelona lost the game 8-2. /Manu Fernandez/Pool via REUTERS

As per Spanish reporter Guillem Balague, the most trusted name for La Liga news in football journalism, Lionel Messi has officially requested to leave FC Barcelona this summer. The 33-year-old Argentinian footballing superstar has been with the club since 2001 and joined the ranks of the senior team in 2004, meaning he has been with the side in his entire professional career.

His allegedly imminent departure is a move that has shocked the footballing world, but is it really such a shock? When La Liga rival Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Juventus in 2018, following almost a decade at Real Madrid, the narrative was that it was time for pastures new as he had achieved everything he could at the Spanish side: He had won La Liga, the Copa Del Rey, the Supercopa de Espana twice each and, most importantly, he had just won the Champions League three times back-to-back.

In comparison, Messi may have won La Liga 10 times, the Copa Del Rey six times and the Supercopa de Espana seven times, but he hasn’t won the Champions League since 2015. If that sounds unreasonable, consider that Barcelona is one of the biggest and richest teams of any sport in the world, and Messi is thought of as, at very worst, the second-best player right now other than Ronaldo and the third of all time behind Ronaldo and Pele.

It isn’t that they aren’t in the mixer every year – few teams are, that’s the beauty of the Champions League – it’s that their exit from the tournament has been increasingly severe. It’s one thing to be outplayed by Atletico Madrid and Juventus over two legs as they were in 2015/16 and 2016/17, respectively.

It’s another to comprehensively beat Roma 4-1 and Liverpool 3-0 as they did in 2017/18 and 2018/19, only to be dumped out by collapsing in the second leg. Roma sneaked through on away goals, Liverpool tore them apart at Anfield and won 4-0.

The fourth and final goal of that game came when Trent Alexander-Arnold saw Barcelona hadn’t set up properly during a corner and quickly got the ball to Divock Origi, who scored without any trouble at all. At the time, it looked simply like an act by canny Liverpool players; now, it looks like a sign that the malaise at Barcelona had turned to rot.

This season, Barcelona were destroyed in the Champions League by eventual winners Bayern Munich 8-2. The loss immediately cemented itself as a landmark in football history. It isn’t just the tally; it’s that they were soundly beaten in every aspect of the game, and the one goal they did score (the other was an own goal) came via a moment of individual brilliance from Luis Suarez, a sign that the team is over reliant on individual skill rather than playing as a cohesive unit. It was a complete embarrassment for Barcelona.

Kingsley Coman (L) and David Alaba (R) of Bayern Munich defend Lionel Messi of Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final match, Lisbon Portugal, August 14, 2020. /CFP

From the outside, it looks like a turning point for Messi, but his dissatisfaction at the club had been building for a while. It’s clear Barcelona had wasted money on signings, such as Antoine Griezman, who is a great player that simply doesn’t fit, without doing the important work of scouting talent to replace the 30+ core of the team: Suarez, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique – Messi himself.

Messi, for all his fame and glory as a player, is remarkably quiet and known for keeping himself to himself, which is why the fact that he even commented at all after the 1-1 against Napoli became more important than the words themselves. For him, it seems enough was enough.

The last time Barcelona had a season without a single trophy was 2013/14, a year in which Messi was largely absent due to injury. That year was followed up by a historic treble win. Messi obviously doesn’t think that’s doable again at Barcelona, but if rumors are to be believed, he does believe it will be possible under similar circumstances.

ESPN is reporting that sources close to both Messi and Manchester City confirm that the player had a conversation with manager Pep Guardiola last week. Guardiola was manager at Barcelona from 2008 to 2012, a period of incredible success for the club and for Messi as a player.

There have been no confirmations from Messi about where he will go next, but as a player whose age is starting to impact his world-class ability, moving somewhere familiar makes a lot of sense, but with Paris Saint-Germain already passive-aggressively talking about a potential move, maybe it will all come down to who has the biggest budget. Either way, this move cements the end of an era in Spanish football, and for one of the greatest of all time, new adventures lie ahead.