For the first three minutes of Wednesday’s Spanish Super Cup second leg, Lionel Messi was flat out. The Argentine chased down every ball, every pass as his Barcelona team set about trying to claw back a 3-1 deficit from the first leg defeat to Real Madrid. With Marco Asensio’s goal after four minutes, though, Messi deflated.
With that moment, the game was as good as gone. Real Madrid spent the rest of the match toying with their biggest rivals, seeing out a comprehensive 5-1 aggregate win. Messi was the embodiment of Barca’s exasperation, strolling around with his hands on his hips. His greatest moment of animation came only when Sergio Ramos taunted him by throwing the ball up right in front of the Argentine’s face.
Barcelona are currently a club in turmoil. New manager, Ernesto Valverde has only taken charge of two competitive matches, but he already has the look of a David Moyes type, struggling to adapt and evolve a team that has achieved so much before his arrival.
Of course, the world record sale of Neymar to Paris Saint-Germain is the purest manifestation of Barcelona’s issues to date, with the Brazilian deciding that the Camp Nou is no longer the place for him to fulfil his potential as the next best player in the world in-waiting. If things continue in the same way, Neymar won’t be the last key figure to flee.
In fact, there’s a case to be made that Messi, the same Messi who looked utterly disinterested for much of Wednesday’s clash against Real Madrid, should follow Neymar in leaving Barcelona. For the first time in his career, it’s entirely feasible that he would achieve more at another club than at Camp Nou.
Messi is the most powerful figure at Barcelona, with the Argentine often accused of pulling the strings behind the scenes. It was believed, for instance, that Tata Martino was Messi’s pick. Some have also speculated that the Argentine was the real reason Neymar decided to depart Camp Nou, with hints of a power struggle between the two. It’s indeed true that at PSG the Brazilian will have the influence to mould the club in the way he was denied at Barcelona.
But Messi must consider how the politicking at Camp Nou could impact upon his legacy as the greatest football player of all time. At 30, he has a number of years left in the tank, but nonetheless, he must be thrifty with those years. This season is already shaping up to be a transitional one at best for Barcelona.
How long can Messi wait for the Catalans to get their act together again?
All the while, Real Madrid look set to cement their place at the top of the Spanish game. A significant gap now exists between Zinedine Zidane’s side and Barcelona, with the Catalans lacking an identity and overarching style of play. Gerard Pique admitted after Wednesday’s defeat that for the first time in his professional career he, as a Barca player, feels inferior to Real. Messi will feel that too.
From the very moment of his breakthrough into the starting lineup, Messi and Barcelona has been a perfect relationship, but cracks might be starting to appear in that relationship. The Argentine should monitor Neymar’s success at PSG closely. It may provide him with a precedent.