Following their dismal loss to Bayern Munich in August 2020, one of football’s greatest dynasties, Barcelona, looked as if they was crumbling.
Indeed, with Lionel Messi infamously sending a burofax detailing his desire to leave the Camp Nou, amid suggestions that one of the biggest clubs in the world were facing financial ruin, everything looked bleak for the Spanish giants. Some months on, however, the situation has drastically changed.
The likes of Pedri, Serginio Dest, Ilaix Moriba and Fransico Trincao have all impressed this season as Ronald Koeman reminds the footballing world that he was indeed the man who helped develop household names such as Juan Mata, David Siva and David Villa.
Having moved the highly-paid Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal on too, funds look as if they’ll be freed for the future. In fact, while they are still far from perfect, an awful lot of the topline problems that shone so evidently when Bayern ripped them apart look to have been sewn up.
That’s without even mentioning Ansu Fati. Another graduate of their famed academy, the Spanish international striker has missed pretty much the whole campaign so far, with his return next season offering yet another beacon of hope.
Perhaps, then, Messi will get another crack at the Champions League. Considering the fact that Barcelona’s failings on that front were widely thought to be one of the reasons he was so keen to leave, making another serious play for the continent’s top prize would be an amazing end to Messi’s top-level European career.
Of course, after being put to the sword by Paris Saint-Germain last month, it would be silly to suggest Barcelona are on course to be the best in Europe. However, the rapid nature of their rebuild, with a vast improvement in their league fortunes since the autumn meaning a recapturing of the La Liga title is a realistic prospect, the idea of Messi sitting atop Europe’s throne again isn’t as absurd as it was only a few months ago.
Rather than bow out of Barcelona in meek fashion, as he would have done had either Manchester City or PSG signed him in the summer of 2020, there’s at least a genuine hope that – over the next few years – the club can offer him one last go at winning the most coveted prize on the continent and add to his list of finest moments.
Should the supporting cast keep developing, fueled by the return of Fati as well as some smart signings, Barcelona would suddenly have a team – on paper at least – capable of challenging the elite.
Caveats, of course, come into play. The nature of developing players mean that their trajectory can go either way and Barcelona have messed up in the transfer market before, so it does remain a case of ifs, buts and maybes. Still, even that kind of theoretical notion is better than the black-and-white transfer request Messi sent in the coldest of fashions. From the ashes of Lisbon, Barcelona have ever so slightly risen again.
With Messi as the project’s scheming architect, feeding the pace ahead of him and finishing the flurry they set out in front, he may not need to leave after all. Instead, Barcelona have changed for him. For the better, Forever, potentially. Football is nothing if not cyclical, after all. Messi, in all his glory, is still peddling.
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