When Barcelona elected to fire former manager Ernesto Valverde in the middle of the season last month, many were surprised. That, given the fact that the former Athletic Club boss has won back-to-back La Liga titles in his two full seasons in charge of the team. Replacing him with out of job Quique Setien whose biggest job before now was coaching Real Betis last season was rather interesting. So far, the team is feeling the effect.
Leading under Valverde, the team is now playing second fiddle to Real Madrid. A damaging 2-0 defeat at Valencia that left the side trailing Los Blancos in the title race by three points and struggles in front of goal in some games has only increased tension within the club. Comments from Sporting Director Eric Abidal in an interview have made things worse. The Frenchman stated recently that one of the reasons for firing the former boss was the lack of adequate effort from some of the players under him. (Barcelona would go on to lose in the Copa Del Rey to Athletic Bilbao yesterday).
Messi took exception to that calling out the former defender to name names. That has led to speculations that the midfield maestro is unhappy with the state of things at the club and could be reconsidering his future. With a clause in his contract that allows him to leave the club for free in the summer, his departure is now seen as a possibility.
The main point of discussion has been the destination if he chooses to leave. Many tabloids have linked him to Manchester City. The reason is not far-fetched: Pep Guardiola. And Man City’s quest to win the Champions League. The Athletic had a great write up found here. (Subscription required, but recommended)
Guardiola has been regularly derided by some football enthusiasts for failing to win the Champions League away from Barcelona. The Catalan manager made his name in the game by leading the Catalan side to two Champions League crowns in 2009 and 2011.
After spending three years at Bayern Munich and another three and a half at City, he has failed to reach another final.
That has led to the critics saying Guardiola’s success in the competition was made possible by Messi’s brilliance. The six-time Ballon d’Or award winner was at the peak of his playing career under Guardiola as were players like Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. The three are generational talents that can carry any team on their backs to success. In their prime the Spanish duo led Spain to World Cup and European Championship glory. But Messi was and remains the king. He also led Argentina to reach the World Cup final and back-to-back Copa America final appearances.
The 33-year-old has spent his whole professional career at the Camp Nou. He has dominated La Liga in more than a decade helping Barcelona to eight titles in the last 11 years. But the Catalan side has conquered the continent just once since Guardiola left in 2012 while rivals Real Madrid have done it four times. That’s difficult to take for many Barca faithful.
After renewing his contract with the club in 2017, many expected Messi to spend his whole career with the Catalan side. But the latest developments have raised other possibilities. However, it remains to be seen where this leads to.
On face value one is inclined to dismiss the stories as mere speculations and rumors. But Neymar’s shock move to Paris Saint-Germain taught us that anything can happen in football. Besides, if home boys Xavi and Iniesta could leave Barcelona for other clubs to end their careers, why will that be impossible for Messi to do? The other guy did the same thing in 2018 by moving to Juventus from the Spanish capital.
Cristiano Ronaldo is now breaking records in Italy. Maybe, it’s time for the Argentine to also experience what it feels like to play for another club.
Will Guardiola and Man City turn down an opportunity to sign arguably the greatest player of all time if it arose?
Your guess is as good as mine...