A LOOK AT LA LIGA
The football world hasn't stopped just because we've entered the post-Messi period in La Liga despite what you read, hear, and possibly feel.
There are parallels with my first season commentating on La Liga back in 1996: Johan Cruyff's legendary career as player and coach had reached a bitter conclusion; Atletico had won La Liga; Real Madrid were in transitional turmoil; and nobody could see beyond the Dream Team.
Bobby Robson needed all his diplomacy to win over the fans and calm the situation. He brought in a Brazilian teenager called Ronaldo and a player he knew well from his time in Portugal, Luis Figo.
Fast forward 25 years and it does feel familiar. Lionel Messi like Cruyff does appear to be irreplaceable. As a player it appeared that Cruyff was the ultimate. Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo redefined greatness and, a few years later, Pep Guardiola emerged as a coach. It can be argued he took the club to an even greater level.
There will never be another Messi, yet football evolves. There were few signs of the magical Argentinian's abilities diminishing; however, the dependency on his superpowers was greater than ever. Barcelona were leaning on a 34-year-old who was becoming more demanding and dominant.
The modern greats, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Carles Puyol, all left at the peak of their powers. We still felt they had another season when they waved an emotional goodbye to the Nou Camp. We'd all like to witness Messi's majestic skills week in and week out in a Barcelona shirt. Last season, he went the full 90 minutes on 36 occasions. His brilliance kept Barcelona in the hunt. It was peak Messi.
It was just impossible for Barcelona to keep him. To meet his demands, even at a 50% reduction, the deal was needed to be spread over five years. He'd still be drawing €500 million per week at the age of 39s. Even personal round-the-clock stadium tours for billionaires couldn't justify that outlay.
La Liga appears to be one of the very few organisations taking the Financial Fair Play rules seriously. Even without Messi, Barcelona's wage bill exceeds the earnings: the ratio is reported to be 110%. Without fans in the stadium, visitors to the museum, customers in the megastore, finances have been decimated in the pandemic.
And so, like in 1996 when Sir Bobby inherited a downbeat club, Barcelona need a stocktake. Pedri is the most exciting teenager in world football. Ansu Fati is much heralded and was carving an exceptional reputation before his injury. We all know how good Antoine Griezmann can be; we just haven't seen it consistently in Barca colours. Frenkie de Jong is approaching his peak years. Philippe Coutinho may yet come good.
Messi is a loss. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, he is irreplaceable as an individual. It's time for teamwork rather than reliance on one man's brilliance.
Real Madrid regrouped and a couple of years later they rarely reminisce about their greatest ever player. In fact, Juventus would be happy for someone to take the legend off their payroll.
In a couple of years, when Barcelona's books are balanced and the team is settled, will
Messi still be justifying the crippling wages at PSG?