Messi’s Final Hours – How FC Barcelona Are On The Brink Of Collapse

Diego Hernandez, Editor/Reporter

On Aug. 14th, 2020, FC Barcelona was rattled to it’s very core. Barcelona lost 8-2 on aggregate to FC Bayern Munich, the eventual winners, in the UEFA Champions League Quarter-Finals. Messi was nowhere to be seen; careless, he turned his head to every ball, every play and every attempt to regain tempo onto the match. This wasn’t just any defeat, or a footballing massacre, this was a club and it’s star player uncovering an identity crisis. Brutally decimated, Barcelona fans and football fans alike knew this was a ticking time bomb about to explode. The end of an era, the beginning of the end.


Fast forward to Aug. 25th, 2020; Lionel Messi faxed a letter to the Barcelona board asking to leave the club, and end his over 16 year tenure with them.


Where did it all go wrong? The answer isn’t simple, and yet, is still a common story we see in football from time and time again.


At the turn of Jan. 2014, ex-Barcelona president Sandro Rosell resigned from the club due to a scandal regarding Neymar’s purchase from Santos. This, in return, led vice president Josep Bartomeu to lead the club. While he is still currently involved with the Neymar scandal alongside Rosell, he had been following the club’s constitution and followed on with the job.


Things moved smoothly, with the following season Barcelona gained a historic new height, winning their second treble in club history with a star studded side of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Neymar and various others. This victory allowed Barcelona to embark on a journey to become the best club on the planet with, at the time, a promising future ahead. Then 2016 came, and Barcelona lost to Atletico Madrid in the same competition, 3-2 on aggregate. That transfer window, Barcelona gained no new players apart from Aleix Vidal, who failed to make an impression. Following the loss to Atletico, many criticized the manager and the board for not investing in any signings or promoting any new youth onto the club, especially since club legend Xavi had departed a year before. Despite that, they still managed to win the domestic double and Luis Enrique managed to keep his job.


Then 2017 came.


Club legend Dani Alves left the club on a bitter note, having reportedly gained a falling out with the club’s board of directors and was forced to leave. Till this day, he says that he will never return to Barcelona because of the sour note the two departed in, but still openly supports the club. A year before, the club announced that Alves was going to sign a two year contract with an option to add on another year. This angered multiple fans as they believed that he deserved a better farewell than what was given. Bartomeu was under scrutiny for this.


That summer they bought a few players, such as highly profiled young talent Andre Gomes, Samuel Umtiti, Denis Suarez and a few others.


Deep into the season, Barcelona was hit with a whopping 4-0 loss to Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Round of 16 tie of the UEFA Champions League. Luis Enrique was under fire, as Barcelona was not only slipping in the UCL, but in their domestic league, LaLiga, as well, being behind rivals Real Madrid by just 3 points in the league table. In the eve of the second tie, Luis Enrique had a couple of press conferences, aiming that the goal was to “score 5 goals.”


Barcelona, amidst all odds, managed to beat PSG 6-1 in the second leg, 6-5 on aggregate thanks to a last minute goal by Sergi Roberto, to pull off the biggest UCL comeback in history. The city celebrated so hard, that according to ESPN, triggered a micro-earthquake in the city. Neymar was claimed as the best player of the match, but the morning after left a sour taste that had lingered Neymar for months, and it’s that despite his heroics, all the headlines pointed to Messi and an iconic picture of him celebrating with the fans in the final minute, hoisting his fist up in an almost biblical setting. This was a bitter reminder for Neymar that he would be second favorite behind Messi, and would not be fully appreciated by the media. Barcelona ended up getting knocked out in the next round 3-0 to Juventus, with Luis Enrique gaining fire for not only failing to make it deeper into the competition and struggling in LaLiga, but also for having their new signings like Andre Gomes fail to make an impact onto the club.


However, on April 23rd, 2017, Barcelona played Real Madrid in Madrid, a match that would ultimately at the time be the deciding factor for Barcelona’s fate in their title race. The game is end to end, Real strike first, Messi equalizes, Barcelona lead deep in the 73rd but then Real equalize through substitute James Rodriguez. Then, in the final gasp of the match, Messi scores from the outer edge of the box, takes off his jersey and shows it, backwards facing his name and number, to the crowd. Every Real Madrid player falls to the ground, Cristiano Ronaldo is livid, the entire stadium minus the Catalan fans are stunned into silence. Barcelona leave the match equal on points with Madrid, but top of the table on goal difference.


There is a catch though, Real Madrid have a game in hand, with Barcelona having played 33, Real have only played 32. They eventually won their remaining matches, as well with Barcelona, meaning that despite El Clasico heroics, the title would be going to the Spanish capital. Barcelona managed to make the final of the Copa Del Rey, beating Deportivo Alaves. Shortly after, Luis Enrique mutually departed from the club.


The following season, Luis Enrique was introduced as the new manager, amidst high unpopularity by the fanbase. This gave fire to Bartomeu for not finding the right manager. Neymar, bittered by his lack of recognition in Barcelona, forced his way out of the club. During preseason, he was caught in a fight with new teammate Nelson Semedo, adding more speculation to his potential departure. In August, his wishes came true as Barcelona terminated his contract, with his legal representatives paying the $262 million release clause to PSG, the club he performed brilliantly against last season. Barcelona ended up buying Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmund as a replacement for Neymar.


The club finished as winners of the domestic double, but blew a 4-1 lead to AS Roma in the UCL in the same round that has knocked them out in the last 2 years. Bartomeu was under more fire for failing to buy players who were not only not fit for the club, but also offering new contracts to players who were severely underperforming. Despite winning the double, Valverde was under fire for playing unadmirable football. The entire identity of the club is to play under the style of club legend Johan Cruijff. Fast paced, possession based and entertaining. Youth has always been a massive part of Barcelona’s identity, it’s how they’ve managed to gain players like Iniesta, Xavi, Busquets and Messi. La Masia, Barcelona’s academy, is argued as the best in the world.


The following year, separating away from their roots and identity, they fielded their starting 11 with no La Masia players for the first time in 16 years. Bartomeu, attempting to cover the gaps that Neymar had left and the lack of communication with the club, managed to purchase players in both the summer and winter windows, such as Arturo Vidal, Malcom, Coutinho, and Lenglet. The fans picked up steam to get Bartomeu and Valverde out of the club for the clumsy management of the club and the separation of Catalan roots and identity, from degrading their academy to playing unattractive football. It gave way to beg the question:


What’s more important, the results, or the football?


Barca made the semifinals of the UCL, facing last year’s finalists, Liverpool. They won the first leg 3-0, yet the fans still criticized the manager as Messi, once again, was the one pulling the strings as the rest of the squad failed to make a big impression on the match. This proved to be costly, as Liverpool, despite not having their star players Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, miraculously managed to overturn the deficit by beating Barcelona 4-0 at Anfield. This prompted heavy criticisms to the board, the manager and the players for reportedly having a clique within the club consisting of Suarez, Messi and a few others, that support Valverde and will force those who don’t adapt to their demands out of the club.


The following season, Coutinho, an ex-Liverpool and now Barca outcast, was sent on loan to Bayern Munich. Bartomeu, repeating his actions of last season, attempted to buy his way to gamble success by purchasing Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid. Dembele, being riddled with injuries, the squad mainly playing both unattractive football and not playing up to speed, was heavily criticized and brutally scolded by the Catalan fanbase. This season was do or die for the entire club, as rumors on a potential Messi departure kept mounting up, with each setback making those rumors pick up more and more noise.


Barcelona started shaky, with the Vice President of Sports Jordi Mestre resigning from his position. They looked to tap into their roots again by promoting La Masia players, Carles Perez, Ricard Puig, Alex Collado and Ansu Fati (the youngest ever player in Barca’s history) to the first team. Things immediately went south as they lost to Granada, failed to beat Osasuna and Dortmund, but quickly picked back up as they went undefeated in the UCL group stages. They lost to Levante in November, and when they met Real Madrid in an already multi-club contesting title race, they drew 0-0, the first ever goalless El Clasico fixture in over 17 years. They were later knocked out of the Supercopa de España by Atletico Madrid 3-2.


Then, after two years of constant protests, chants and pleads by the fanbase to fire him, Ernesto Valverde was fired. The next man to take charge to a cracking Barcelona was Enrique Setien. What fans thought would be a man who could bring back Cruijff-based football full of tradition, ended up being a nightmare as the fanbase was split into asking the question when they were asked with Valverde.


What’s more important, the results or the football?


The breaking point was when they lost 2-0 in Madrid to Real Madrid, which proved costly as they finished runners up in LaLiga and knocked out of the Copa Del Rey. The player with the most goals and assists that season? Lionel Messi, a man who is far too often known as the only beating lifeline in an already aging and dying Barcelona. Then, the UCL beckoned. Half of the fanbase thought they were going to lose horrendously to Bayern Munich in the, you guessed it, quarterfinals, as soon as the tie was announced. The other half thought they could scrape it and win, but they all had one thing in common, the main point and figurehead to guide the match would be Messi. As back in 2015, Lionel Messi scored twice against Bayern Munich to take them to the UCL final, a man who has throughout his career proven time and time again that he is more than capable of turning matches on their heads, and shocking the world at the knack of it.


This time was different. A broken fanbase, a club broken of it’s traditions, a club with incompetent owners who refuse to step down, a club in debt, a laughing stock, and a man who could only do so much, yet seen as so little to the board.


Barcelona didn’t just lose 8-2, they didn’t just lose a football match. They lost their identity, they lost their pride and they lost a once cherished club who had been at the top of the world, now placed at rock bottom’s basement. To add salt onto the gaping wound, Coutinho, a Barcelona player loaned out to Bayern Munich, managed to gain an assist and score twice against his own club.


Not only did the fans know it, but the players, manager and staff knew it too. In an interview after the slaughter, club figurehead Gerard Pique said the words all Barca fans were thinking, “this is the bottom.”


Bartomeu refused to step down and as of 5:43am local Barcelona time, has yet to step down. And now, the world awaits to know whether Barca’s lifeline, Lionel Messi, will continue on or move on from the fire in Catalonia.


The story of Barcelona is a story commonly known in football. Incompetent owners who ruin a club, who strip it of it’s dignity and refuse to listen to the pleads of fans in order to save their pockets or dignity. A club who had the best academy in the world is now ridiculed for not using it, allowing clubs like Red Bull Salzburg or Ajax, another club famed for Johan Cruijff, to catch up. A club who gains incompetent owners and strips it of it’s dignity, much like Leyton Orient, Charlton Athletic, Palermo and various others.


It’s a common story that can happen to anybody, even the greatest in history, such as Lionel Messi.


In April 2014, ex-Barcelona manager Tito Vilanova passed away after a long battle with cancer at the age of 45. Football mourned his passing, with various Barcelona staff and players attending his funeral.


According to Bleacher Report, Lionel Messi made a promise to Tito Vilanova on his deathbed that he would never leave Barcelona. This is the legacy of Josep Bartomeu, a legacy of broken promises, broken foundations and broken club.


What breaks the most about this, is that he isn’t the first man to ruin a football club, let alone a man who has revered so much to his boyhood club.


According to Fabrizio Romano, in order for Messi to leave, a club must pay over 222 million euros for his release clause, making it the most expensive transfer in history. The clubs in pole position to land him are currently Manchester City, PSG, Juventus and Inter.


The coming days will shape football history forever, no matter how common the story is.