If it were just as simple as watching Leo Messi kick a football, his departure from my favorite league in all of sport would be simply heartbreaking. For many of you, it is that simple, and to those of you who feel that way I strongly suggest that you not finish this article. It will only make you angry and your day doesn’t need anger at a random stranger you’ve never met.
Messi is absolutely not at fault in any way over his depatrutre from FC Barcelona. The previous board led by Bartomeu let him and his club down in a massive way, and Joan Laporta tried to ignore the problem with free signings he still can’t register and ultimately chose Florentino Perez and his ‘Super League’ over the best player FC Barcelona ever had.
That said, at my core I can’t really say that I’m upset that he’s leaving. Barcelona are financial bullies in La Liga, and even as they’ve made increasingly bad decisions in recent years, Leo Messi has been the stick they’ve been continuing to beat their rivals with to cover up their mistakes. My desire to see Leo Messi play football isn’t nearly as strong as my desire to see Barcelona as an institution humbled. They trot out ‘Mes que un club’ while operating like a badly run major corporation and then win trophies and flaunt them in the face of the rest of us.
Messi, himself, has benefited from Barcelona’s crookedness over the last decade. Part of the legacy Messi has built for himself comes from the treble they won in 2015. Barca had an absolutely terrifying attack that year. (They also beat Villarreal twice.) A crucial part of that attack was Neymar Jr, who we now know was completely with all sorts of secret and deceit resulting in tax fraud charges against Barcelona and the removal of their club president from his post. This fraudulent move not only helped Barca and Messi win a treble that season but also helped them to many more trophies in the following years before the largest transfer fee in world football history gave them a massive, unimaginable to the rest of us profit out of the whole saga. Barcelona then squandered it anyway.
In the wake of Neymar leaving, Barca surrounded Messi with one absurdly expensive player after another, and even though they never quite got to the same heights again, their financial irresponsibility allowed them to act as if they were still something akin to the Barca of old, and again Messi’s legacy benefited. Meanwhile, the man himself often carried out egotistical passive agression to defend the narrative around his career. Notable examples include ‘retiring’ from the Argentine national team as soon as media held him in some part responsible for their failure to win the Copa America and then not long after, Barca director Pere Gratacos was fired from his post simply for suggesting that Messi wouldn’t have had all his success without other players. Many of the gigantic contracts Barcelona now cannot afford and are struggling to get rid of were signed in relation to Messi’s own gargantuan wages. In Barca’s most dysfunctional era, Messi was the most powerful person at the club.
Lionel Messi is one of the greatest footballers any of us will ever see. That legacy also gets unnecessary inflation by a portion of football fandom that literally treats him as a god, and acts like any contextualization or lack of praise for his actions is some sort of blasphemy. His presence allowed Barcelona to continue their charade of legitmacy much longer than it would have otherwise, and for that reason I am very glad he’s leaving.
That said, I wish him nothing but the best going forward. He’s probably going to another club run by shady business and questionable finances in PSG, but frankly he deserves more success than Barcelona and that’s what he’ll get, so good for him. He’s one of the icons of Barcelona’s greatest era under Pep Guardiola, and he’s also the leading figure in the last days of Rosell and the tenure of Bartomeu at the club. For all of this, as a rival fan, his departure leaves me with complicated feelings, the most dominant of which probably being satisfaction.
To the Barcelona fans out there who’s passion for their club won’t diminish a bit in this episode, I salute you. Many of you were here before Messi and will continue to be here for decades. You are part of what makes football great, and I’m so sorry your club failed to do right by your legend in this way. To the people already preparing to by a PSG Messi shirt who won’t watch any La Liga this season after claiming to be a Barca fan for the last decade or so, screw you and good riddance.