The greatest relationship in contemporary football has probably reached its climax through a curious vehicle – a damning fax. It is perhaps telling that Lionel Messi chose to tell his beloved Barcelona through this mode that he seeks a way out of the club after two decades of greatness.
Of course, fax remains an oft-used means of efficient communication in office work, but for laymen, it has an old-world charm harking back to a more ancient era that can never again be recreated. It is possibly a great metaphor to look at Lionel Messi’s journey with the Catalan club, a journey that will probably never be emulated again in the changed dynamics of modern football.
Gone are the days of legendary one-club men in football like Bobby Charlton and Francesco Totti who gave their all for a single institution. But even their success pales in comparison with Lionel Messi’s achievements with the Blaugrana.
Yes, with 33 trophies for Barcelona, Lionel Messi might be just one behind Manchester United great Ryan Giggs; but mere numbers cannot capture the cultural impact and legacy that La Pulga leaves behind.
For many football fans who have grown up with Lionel Messi, football and Barcelona are synonymous with the little magician. That is why his heartbreaking exit after Barcelona’s barren season following a 8-2 demolition at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League will be all the more shocking.
For most fans of possibly the greatest footballer of this generation (and perhaps of all time), this poignant moment possibly signifies the end of football as they know it. Even rivals (read ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’) and their fans will attest to this being a shattering moment for the modern game and the end of a certain ethos that will probably never again return to the game.
Why the Lionel Messi era was unique
As with everything that churns out money, sports has changed dramatically in the last few decades, with the multi-billion dollar industry now consistently breaching new financial landmarks. In such a scenario, sportsmen, including footballers, have become saleable commodities who are constantly traded by the companies (read ‘clubs’) involved in this business.
However, the commodities themselves, the superstar footballers who are the cornerstones of this business, are able to cash in on bigger and better deals for themselves as their stock rises.
Sometimes, like Cristiano Ronaldo, they jump ships for new challenges. However, the concept of loyalty and inherent links to a parent club are almost on the edge of extinction in this competitive marketplace. That is why, Ronaldo’s shock move to Juventus after a trophy-laden spell with Real Madrid does not engender the same incredulity as Lionel Messi’s decision to jump ship at the age of 33.
Not many may remember this, but Lionel Messi began his football career at Newell’s Old Boys before moving across the Atlantic to join Barelona. The club, as revealed by the grapevine, helped with his treatment for a hormonal deficiency, and a legendary relationship commenced.
Lionel Messi achieved every possible individual and team accolade with the club. He won a record six Ballon’D’Ors and as many European Golden Shoe awards and achieved numerous other feats while becoming Barcelona’s all-time top-scorer in the process. With 444 La Liga goals from 485 games, he has set a record that will probably never be broken.
Messi delivered Barcelona ten La Liga crowns and four Champions League trophies during a stint that will forever be etched in the annals of the game and in the club’s rich folklore.
But Lionel Messi’s real legacy will lie beyond the numbers he accumulated. As part of possibly the most aesthetically-pleasing football team comprising other matadors like Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez in the heydays of the Pep Guardiola era, Lionel Messi uniquely remains a genius individual who was also a part of a genius team.
Often, his silken skills in assisting and dribbling past adversaries trumped his amazing goal-scoring prowess. His brilliant solo goal against Getafe in a La Liga game in 2007, five goals against Bayer Leverkusen in a Champions League game and two goals in as many Champions League finals against a strong Manchester United side are all mere landmarks in a continuous journey of brilliant football.
However, it’s been five years since the Blaugrana last triumphed on the European stage, and the fault lines in the club are possibly too gaping for even La Pulga to bridge.
By ending this era himself, Lionel Messi is drawing to a close a unique epoch in the history of the modern game, one that could see the ethos of club loyalty probably become extinct.
Published 27 Aug 2020, 22:10 IST