“The people at Barça know me and know that there is no problem. Whatever might be written in a contract, what I feel for this club goes way beyond a signature on a piece of paper, so in that regard there’s no problem”. That was what Lionel Messihad to say on at up his sixth Ballon d’Or. Nine months later, his message to Barça fans telling them not to worry was all forgotten about as Messi put in a request for his contract to be rescinded – by burofax…
We will find out the reasons why Messi wants to leave the club where he has spent almost all of his career when he decides to go public. But we already have a fair idea. To start with there is the cold relationship with the board. Messi’s relationship with club directors since Joan Laporta left hasn’t exactly been rosy, although it has never deteriorated to such an extreme. For some time, Bartomeu’s presence in the dressing room has not been welcomed while Messi has been captain.
Other key events have marked these last nine months – including the decision to sack Ernesto Valverde in January in order to give the team “a new impulse” andQuique Setién was drafted in. Messi was not happy when Eric Abidal took on upon himself to point the finger at the players. “A lot of the players were not satisfied and many of them were not working very hard,” Abidal said in an interview with Sport.Messi immediately lashed back, posting a message on Instagram: “To be brutally honest, I don’t like doing these things but I think that every person has to take responsibility for their own duties and the decisions they take. That includes the players, in what goes on out on the pitch – but we are the first ones to recognise when we haven’t played well. Those in charge of the Technical Area also need to assume their responsibilities and above all, the decisions that they make”.
Coronavirus pandemic and salary cuts
Things got even worse in March. The Spanish government declared a state of emergency and Barça were suddenly forced to reduce the salaries of all employees, with the players taking a big cut. Some directors let it slip that the players refused to take a pay cut, and once again Messi went public to clear up the players’ stance and at the same time, take a pop at the board: “To our great surprise, from within the club, some have been trying to scrutinise us and pressurise us into doing something that we were always clear we would do “.
After criticising Abidal, the board and Bartomeu, Messi also took aim at the coach.Setién disagreed with the Argentinean’s view of how far the team could get playing as they were and Messi was quick to correct him: “Setién misunderstood what I said or it was explained to him poorly, but we cannot win the Champions League playing like we were before the break. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and all views deserve respect. Mine was based on the fact that I have been fortunate enough to play the Champions League every year”.
Crisis deepens after humiliation to Bayern
The crisis deepened after the 1-2 defeat to Osasuna, and Messi was livid: “The fans are losing patience because we are not giving them anything”. Perhaps what he was trying to say was that Barcelona were losing him. The situation calmed after the final game of the league against Alavés but soon flared up again, reaching the point of no return after Barcelona’s humbling 2-8 Champions League defeat to Bayern.
Koeman’s comments on the day of his presentation (“I don’t know if I have to convince Messi. I don’t know if it’s a yes or a no; I want to know what he thinks, I hope he stays”); and his insistence in the need to change the way the team plays together with the way the club told Luis Suárez he was no longer needed all made it painfully clear to Messi that it was time to move. Those in the player’s close circle deny allegations of a conversation with Koeman in which the coach was reported to have told Messi that his privileges had finished and it was time to start thinking about the team. Whether that conversation took place or not, Messi felt angry enough to bring his career with Barça to an end by letting the club know by burofax. That phrase, “What I feel for this club goes beyond a piece of paper,” now has a new significance.