Barcelona might well be a club on the brink of institutional crisis.
There are problems in La Masia where the production line is malfunctioning. The style of play in the first team under Luis Enrique betrays the principles that brought Barca widespread acclaim – and titles – under his predecessors.
He has the Messi – Suarez – Neymar trio at his disposal but has laid waste to Barca’s controlled style to make sure they get the ball quickly and often.
The transfer policy under sporting director Robert Fernandez is turning up more misses than hits, including signings such as Paco Alcacer, Aleix Vidal and Arda Turan.
There is bound to be upheaval at Camp Nou this summer.
The late summer signing of Andre Gomes from Valencia was part-financed by bringing forward a portion of the 2017 transfer budget – estimated to be a shade under €30m – meaning they will only have around €60m to play with. For that you might get Marco Verratti’s left foot and not much else.
Then there is the issue of Lionel Messi’s contract. The 29-year-old has not yet reached a deal with Barca regarding the renewal of his current deal which expires in 2018.
Barca are right at the very top of their wage budget as things stand – sustaining the MSN trident is no cheap trick – but will have to match Messi’s demands. As he is the only superstar currently pulling his weight, he will be entitled to ask for his market value.
Messi is more than halfway through a four-year deal worth a basic €32m per season after tax but it's structured unconventionally. For the first two seasons of that deal Messi received €22m. This season - and next - he receives €42m.
Messi will no doubt be expecting an improvement; at least €35m per season for the duration of another four-year term.
He has scored 19 goals in 20 league games this season and is shouldering an increasing burden for Luis Enrique’s side, so it would appear to be a no-brainer for Barca to pay up.
Messi’s interests – however - might not be best served by remaining in Catalunya this summer.
These are not the conditions in which Messi can sustain his own streak of success. Barca are on a downward trend - unless something drastic happens – and Messi deserves more than enduring the whistles and boos of a Camp Nou crowd frustrated by a lack of progress.
Barca is all Messi knows. He is the clear boss having grown into the role as leader following the departures of big personalities like Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez and Dani Alves. The team is bent to his will.
Barcelona’s 2016-17 season, however, has laid bare the extent of their structural deficiencies not just on the pitch but off it. Messi’s contributions – such as his double against Leganes last weekend – are serving to paper over the cracks. The significant fan dismay around Camp Nou – including recent boos and whistles against Gomes – is said to have agitated him.
What Messi deserves is the assurance that Barca can build a team around him good enough to compete with Real Madrid for the biggest trophies in Spain and in Europe. Currently they cannot make that promise to him.
Barcelona are going to have to rebuild their team and strengthen it for the coming seasons but that is not what Messi needs. Barca’s financial constraints mean that they cannot build easily. Messi wants a team good enough to sustain a treble bid but the irony is that he might have to leave for them to afford it. The indulgence of MSN costs a lot both in terms of investment and identity.
It might be easier for them to create a side without him, as painful as that might sound, and that’s why a divorce is not as unthinkable as it once was.
It would not be completely without precedent. Former Barca president Sandro Rosell has revealed that the time to sell Ronaldinho was after winning the Champions League in 2006 and admits he would have done so had Cristiano Ronaldo or Kaka been available.
"When you are Barca manager you have to be cold-blooded,” he said to El Periodico.
Messi’s buyout clause stands at €250m but Barca would accept significantly less than that with only one year on his contract. Let’s say for example they take in €150m for him plus the €140m-odd in saved wages over the life of another four-year contract. Those are not inconsiderable sums – especially for a team sorely lacking balance in the squad.
Once upon a time homegrown players like Victor Valdes, Puyol, Sergio Busquets, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Pedro were coming through and ensuring massive fees were not needed to maintain that balance. Those days are over.
The pain of losing Messi is going to come some day for Barcelona. When all is said and done he will have led them through their most successful period in history. Will he retire there? Will he decline?
Footballers usually get around a decade at the very top and in that respect Messi is already in added time. Wouldn’t it be prudent – and not to mention brave – for Barcelona to cash in while the price is high and ensure they can move forward?
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