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Lion of soccer

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By Ade Ojeikere

Big clubs always have things going for them especially the achieving ones such as FC Barcelona. What transpired in the last three weeks between Barcelona and Lionel Messi underlines the strength of clubs over their players. It is important to state that Messi suffered the backlash of Cristiano Ronaldo’s ‘easy’ exit from Real Madrid.

Many wondered what La Liga’s interest in the feud when Messi isn’t in its employment. La Liga lost its momentum and international focus with Ronaldo’s exit. La Liga also lost massively with Ronaldo going away with his followers and media glitz, which accompanied everything he did before, during and after matches.

In June, President of La Liga Javier Tebas said: ‘‘The departure of Cristiano [Ronaldo], although they were upset in Madrid, had an almost zero impact because in La Liga we have been preparing for years so that the brand transcends the players.

‘‘But the case of Messi is different. Messi is the best player in the history of football. We have been fortunate to have always had him in our league. I believe that Messi’s departure would be noticeable. Of course, more if he left to play another League.’’

So, when Messi’s misunderstanding with Barca broke, I told most of my friends that the former UEFA Champions League winners won’t release their gem for any fee. Barca freeing Messi would have amounted to a disservice to their marketing mechanism. I equally told them that La Liga’s support for the club at a veiled effort not to further de-market the competition with Messi’s exit. The world’s soccer followers would have dumped the La Liga had Messi joined Manchester City.

Indeed, Spain’s economy would have been in a big crisis since Real Madrid and Barca hold the aces in terms of revenue generation. Don’t remind me of the huge taxes the players of the two teams pay yearly. If Messi had left Barcelona, the highest-ranked star on the Forbes sport rich list from Spain would be Antoine Griezmann at No. 60. Ronaldo is very rich yet Messi draws more commercial value for the club and the league, according to the aforementioned statistics.

Messi’s exit would have commenced the gradual movement of big stars to other leagues. This star trek would have moulded the minds of players choosing any of the big clubs in Spain. Real Madrid and Barca have in the last decades produced some of the most exciting football players to watch. Both clubs go the extra mile to beef up their squads, most times anticipatory of the clashes between them every season. The world stands still whenever the teams are pitched against the other, irrespective of where the matches are played in Spain.

In fact, football is the biggest winner with Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League victory, penultimate year. Until that time, soccer was tilted towards Spain with the big actors being Messi and Ronaldo. Indeed, Roma provided the first whip which exposed Barca’s dwindling fortunes in the Champions League in the 2018/2019 edition with Liverpool winning the trophy the next year. What Bayern Munich did with the 8-2 massacre was to open Messi’s eyes to depart from a house whose roof was on the verge of collapse. Real Madrid’s treble on the trot of the most prestigious soccer competition looked like normal until Ronaldo’s exit from the Los Blancos.

Messi trained with Barca alone as reported, which is the normal practice pending when he would have done the seasonal medical tests, especially coronavirus. The report stated further he wore a forlorn look which was expected given what went down during the period of the impasse. Would Messi give his best for Barca during matches? What would be the fans’ response when he runs out of the tunnel for the first game at Camp Nou? Would the setting that day not raise posers about Messi’s future?

Antoine Griezmann, who many pundits say has unresolved relationship issues on and off the pitch with Messi, wants to stay at Camp Nou just telling Mundo Deportivo : ‘’We try to have news, but what happens is between the club and him. We just hope he stays. We listen to a bit of everything but we don’t know more on our part’’.

Griezmann is one of the disturbing trends at Barca that pushed Messi to the wall to tender his letter of resignation. Have these puzzled being sorted out or have they been allowed to remain unresolved that they would be settled amicably in the course of the season? Credit should go the new manager Koeman with stoic silence during the brouhaha, preferring to face his job of improving the players’ fitness. Of course, Koeman isn’t a novice in the club, having grown through the ranks to stardom, captaining the side to win all the trophies Messi also won with the Laliga side.

Koeman’s tactical savvy isn’t top-notch compared to managers such as Jose Mourinho. But he could hit the ground running for Barca because he understands the mentality of how the team should play. Besides, the fans won’t boo him like since he has brought them moments to celebrate in the past as a player. Ardent fans don’t abandon their stars in such critical periods and this is what Barca needs to reset its operations which have been in tatters since Messi’s pronouncement last month.

What the Messi/Barca face-off has done for the game is that it settled the often talked about inability of the immensely talented Argentine to play for another club besides Barcelona. Such reservations wouldn’t hold any water now that Messi chose to play for Manchester City while his father and the club’s hierarchy tried to call a truce, which was achieved. Would Messi have been able to succeed at Manchester City? Yes, if you ask this right since both men have the desired working relationship in the past with Barcelona. Besides, Manchester City’s management would have given Guardiola the cash to further strengthen the squad with players of Messi’s pedigree in the game. Guardiola wouldn’t have disappointed, knowing the implications to his career, if he fails to deliver the UEFA Champions League trophy this season.

The most prestigious trophy in Europe is what the owners of the business want Manchester City to lift, hence the choice of Guardiola as their manager in the beginning. It would have been very captivating watching Messi waltz past players in the English Premier League, especially those playing for teams tagged also-ran in the competition. Messi would have been in his comfort zone playing against the big boys, most of whom he played against at the UEFA Champions League level.

Messi had a right to decide his destiny as a player and in his judgment, there wouldn’t have been any partiality. But he soon found out there were people he couldn’t just wish away their desires on the altar of leaving Barcelona. No set of people could have stopped Messi from one testing the tents of his contract which has a release of clause of 700 million Euros, although he later claimed that he couldn’t find himself in court with the club of his life where he achieved everything that made him who he is today.

Messi revealed that he was startled when he told his family that he wanted to quit Barcelona. Yes, Messi knew his wife’s decisions and sentiments. But it was his kids that shocked him the most with their informed counterpoints which defied their ages.

‘’When I communicated my wish to leave to my wife and children, it was a brutal drama,’’ Messi told Goal.

‘’The whole family began crying, my children did not want to leave Barcelona, nor did they want to change schools. Mateo is still little and he doesn’t realise what it means to go somewhere else and make your life a few years elsewhere.

‘’Thiago, he is older. He heard something on TV and found out something and asked. I didn’t want him to know anything about being forced to leave, to have to live in a new school or make new friends.

‘’He cried to me and said ‘let’s not go’. I repeat that it was hard, really. It was understandable. It happened to me. It is very difficult to make a decision.’’

Such is life, Messi. The kids have spoken. Kids’ words count seriously in decision making at the family level. Anyway, Messi has the next 12 months educating the kids on why he must quit Barcelona at the expiration of his contract. Messi would walk away from the contract a free agent by June 30, 2021. Would Messi win the next session with his kids next year or would he devise a template that would accommodate all the posers raised when he first raised the matter with them as he revealed?

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