LIFE AFTER MESSI MAKES BARCELONA SHUDDER!
Real Madrid have fallen apart without Ronaldo, that’s why…
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