by Okwura Uchi-Okorocha
The current era of soccer, the beautiful game, is one characterized by quick deals and money schemes. It certainly then is a sight to behold when a player stays loyal to a club for a long period of time. It is even more impressive when a player is loyal to the club they started out their career with. Even more impressive than that, is being loyal to your parent club while being one of the top players in the world, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Now take all this, ramp it up to ten, and you begin get an idea of the situation that recently transpired between Lionel Messi and Barcelona Football Club. Lionel Messi had sought to leave the club due to their unwillingness to improve the rapidly deteriorating state of the team, but he was essentially held hostage due to his massive pull and ability to drive. Barcelona Football club chose to favor an increase in profit margins over taking care of their best and most loyal player.
Lionel Andres Messi was born in Rosario, Argentina to a low-class family. From an incredibly young age, his talent was evident as he would weave in and out of opponents much bigger and older than him, capping of his amazing runs with equally amazing goals. There was a glaring problem though. Messi had a growth hormone problem which essentially prevented him from growing and catching up physically to his peers. In came Barcelona who, recognizing his massive talent, offered to provide the young star with medical treatment so long as he joined the club. Messi went on to join Barcelona Football Club and broke virtually every record set in the history of the sport, becoming arguably the best player of all time. It would have been natural for this to end as a happily ever after story but was such was not to be the case.
Last year, Messi and the club faced the most tumultuous and difficult time they have had in their 19-year relationship. To sum it up as succinctly as I can, the club failed to provide an aging Messi with the necessary pieces(players) around him to allow them to push for another successful season filled with titles. They instead chose to use those funds to promote the brand outside of the game and expand their global reach. This line of thinking and mode of operation did not sit well with Messi whose influence as a player on the club’s inner workings is akin to that of LeBron James. He demanded that club president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, and his board resign and a that new front office be appointed. The resulting shockwave sent out by this statement was so massive, twitter broke down for a few hours.
Everybody was tweeting about it. From the average soccer fan to the mascot of the Chicago Bulls, it seemed every single person on earth had tuned in to see what action the 5’7 magician was going to take next. Rumors flew from angles; some said Messi had left Spain and gone back to Argentina, others said Messi had planned to take other players with him and others were even saying that he was considering retirement. There was a cacophony of noise being spewed and echoed from all corners of the internet just trying to make head or tail of what had just happened and what it could entail for the sport. Soon, concrete pieces of information started rising above the rest of the litter and it was found out that Messi was planning to move to England and reunite with one of his former coaches at a team called Manchester City. Then, it was revealed that Bartomeu had stated he would not resign and, if Messi wanted to leave, he would have to find a team that was willing to pay his release clause of $700,000,000. Messi then retorted, stating that according to his contract he was able to leave for free at the end of the season, as his contract had run its course. Of course, Bartomeu did not agree to this, and thus a stalemate ensued. Fans rioted for days outside the Barcelona FC offices, hurling objects, and insults at Bartomeu and his gang while Messi’s father attempted to hash out the specificities of the contract with them. It eventually reached the point where if Messi really wanted to leave the club, he would have to take them to court and dispute the contract there.
At this point, Messi fell back. He could not bring himself to take the team that had saved his career and provided him with the opportunity to play the sport to court even though they were blackmailing him. To let the world know his final decision, Messi set up an interview with the popular soccer news outlet, “Goal”, and explained his reasoning to stay. He still was very displeased with the club’s current state of affairs and planned to leave, but for the sake of the fans who had his back during this difficult period and his teammates, especially the younger ones, he would stay for another season. Messi also called out Bartomeu in the interview, stating that he lacked a vision and structure for the club he was supposedly running and that his decisions were actively destroying the club’s legacy.
This entire saga was really eye opening for sports fans around the world. While everyone was generally cognizant of the sport’s shift towards a more cash based philosophy—with numerous teams being bought by wealthy oil moguls or stock market investors—many still believed there was a modicum of that old school mentality of the team and players coming first. Surely clubs would still be loyal to at least the best of the best? Well as we clearly saw with Messi, the answer to that question is no. This really casts a scary shadow on what the future of the game might hold for audiences. What will be next, drastic changes to the rules of the game, reduced wages for deserving stars, match fixing becoming legal!? The beautiful game is no longer what she used to be; she is being beaten brutalized and abused by money hungry fiends. The players who we thought would be our shining light in these dark times are either getting snuffed out through poor contracts or are being enticed by massive wages to act in ways that actively hurt the competitiveness of the sport. Things look pretty bleak right now, but I am still a hopeful fan. Hopefully, the game that enraptured my 5-year-old mind and has captured my imagination for years can have a massive exodus to it roots and discover its lost beauty.