Real Madrid have fallen apart with­out Ron­aldo, that’s why…

Daily Mail - - Football - by PETE JENSON

WRIT­TEN large on a huge ad­ver­tis­ing hoard­ing which stretches across one of the main walls of the Nou Camp of­fices is a poster which says: l’ex­traor­di­nari es que sem­bli nor­mal. It means: ‘The ex­tra­or­di­nary thing is that this seems nor­mal’.

It’s on a back­ground of Barcelona play­ers cel­e­brat­ing their eighth league ti­tle in 11 years. It’s about the team, but it could eas­ily be just about Lionel Messi.

Be­hind the walls of those of­fices on the morn­ing af­ter the night be­fore, Barcelona pres­i­dent Josep Maria Bar­tomeu re­flects: ‘We have been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing Messi for years, watch­ing him, liv­ing with him here at our club. I know he is ex­tra­or­di­nary but I see it as nor­mal now. When he took that free-kick, al­most all of us knew it was go­ing in.’

He paints a picture of the scene in the main stand be­fore Messi scored. ‘A few sec­onds be­fore, talk­ing to my com­pan­ions in the di­rec­tors’ box, we were say­ing, “Per­fect, a lit­tle fur­ther out, where it’s best for him. This is go­ing in. This is go­ing in for sure”.

‘Leo is spe­cial. We see a wall but he sees a gap. And it goes right in there. Messi is a ge­nius, but we live with a ge­nius as if it was nor­mal. It has been so many sea­sons, so many games.’

The big ques­tion for Barcelona — and one they hope they can post­pone hav­ing to an­swer for as long as pos­si­ble — is what will the fu­ture be like with­out him?

Real Madrid have fallen apart this sea­son in their first postCris­tiano Ron­aldo cam­paign.

While he strode to an­other league ti­tle in Italy with Ju­ven­tus, with­out him Real are 18 points off the lead with three games left and they ex­ited the Cham­pi­ons League at the last-16 stage.

The ef­fect on Barcelona when Messi goes could be even greater be­cause they are not just los­ing their finest ever player — one who turns 32 next month — they are

los­ing a stan­dard bearer; foot­ball’s great­est one-club man.

‘You have to re­mem­ber he came here at 13, he was raised here,’ says Bar­tomeu. ‘He knows ev­ery­one and ev­ery­one knows him. He is part of the club.

‘Ex­ter­nally, he cre­ates such huge ex­pec­ta­tion, but in­ter­nally we don’t ex­pe­ri­ence it like that. He lives it all very nor­mally. And al­though he’s ex­cep­tional, he plays for the team. Against Liver­pool, he could have scored more, but he passed to team-mates.’

Those who work with Messi be­lieve he could carry on for an­other five years. In terms of physique and style of play, there are sim­i­lar­i­ties with Gianfranco Zola, who played for Chelsea un­til he was 36. That is taken into con­sid­er­a­tion at Barca. It is bet­ter to buy a player such as Ous­mane Dem­bele, who will be 26 in five years’ time, than a player who is al­ready that age.

But, as Dem­bele showed on Wed­nes­day, when he missed the chance to make it 4-0, he is only hu­man. An heir to the su­per­hu­man Messi can­not be bought.

‘Pele is al­ways as­so­ci­ated with San­tos, the only place he played,’ says Bar­tomeu. ‘ Leo be­longs to world foot­ball, but he has al­ways lived at Barcelona. He will be a one-club man. He’ll stop play­ing, but he’ll al­ways be with us.’

That might be true in a metaphor­i­cal sense, but one day he will not be on the pitch to de­stroy teams the way he de­stroyed Liver­pool. Barca hope that day is a long time com­ing. MESSI has es­caped pun­ish­ment by UEfA de­spite TV footage ap­pear­ing to show the Ar­gen­tine punch­ing Liver­pool mid­fielder fabinho on Wed­nes­day. He is free to fea­ture in Tues­day’s sec­ond leg at An­field.

One of our own: Josep Maria Bar­tomeu with Lionel Messi GETTY IM­AGES

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