Football Features

“He holds the keys to the future of FC Barcelona” – Messi changes the game yet again as Barca beat Betis at Camp Nou

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:52, 7 November 2020 | Updated: 9:36, 30 March 2021

In a game of two halves, Barcelona beat Real Betis 5-2 at Camp Nou with Leo Messi coming on at half-time.

The victory was routine in the end, but with Messi starting the game on the bench it was a contest up to half-time as the Blaugrana laboured to extend their one goal lead before getting pegged back just before the break.

Then Messi came on at the break.

Not five minutes later, the Argentine pulled off a sensational magic trick: he got Antoine Griezmann to score without even touching the ball. Had Messi fed Griezmann with a delicious pass, or had he taken a shot that was saved and Griezmann tapped home the rebound, no one would have been surprised. Those would have been expected.

But no, instead Messi managed to do it without even having to touch the ball.

Frenkie de Jong sent a lovely pass to the left flank where Jordi Alba pinged a beauty of a flat low cross in Messi’s direction. The Argentine has more gravitational force than any other player in the world and instantly both Betis defenders and goalkeeper Claudio Bravo began to converge on him.

Now, Messi could still have shot from here, perhaps lifting the ball over Bravo, but instead he stepped over the ball. Just hopped over it like a schoolboy leaping over a puddle on their way to school. A quick and simple skip that completely befuddled the Betis defenders. Even Aissa Mandi, whose trailing run meant he could see the ball after he ran beyond Messi, was stood awestruck to chase and block as it ran through to Antoine Griezmann. The Frenchman tapped home to make it 2-1 after missing 3 superb chances in the first-half, including a penalty!

The rest of the game was a procession. Barcelona’s stranglehold on the game increased, getting total when Mandi was sent off on the hour as Messi made it 3-1. The Argentine later scored his first goal from open play this season, rocketing the ball into the roof of the net after a superb backheel from Sergi Roberto, and Pedri finished things off in the 90th minute.

Betis did cut the lead to one goal for a bit, but it never looked like they were really in the game, unlike in the first-half when even at 1-0 with the Blaugrana creating several chances, it always felt like an open contest.

That is the power of Leo Messi, that is what he does.

Which is why the coming months are going to be so tricky for Barcelona interim president Carles Tusquets and, going beyond, the next club president. One of the hopefuls to land that position, Toni Freixa, has said that Messi would need to take a paycut if he wanted to stay.

“To him, as to all the players who have to renew or sign, we will make an offer that, of course, will not be feasible to match the terms that he has had until now,” said Freixa, before making clear: “we think Messi still has a lot of football left to play.”

Messi earns around £500,000 per-week, a staggering sum that goes some way to explain why the Blaugrana have the highest wage bill in football. Yet how could you possibly ask him to slash those wages? Obviously from a financial standpoint it would have to happen for him to stay, but from a footballing standpoint, well, just look at today!

It’s not just that Messi is a great footballer, Barcelona have plenty of talent and played well in the first-half beyond their finishing and some defending (that persisted after the break, Sergi Roberto is just a problem like that), it’s that he’s such a colossal presence that whenever he’s o the field literally everyone plays better.

Jordi Alba said after the match that all the players want Messi on the field, and that was really evident tonight. The level went up several notches with Messi on the field, everyone was sharper, Griezmann even scored!

Quite how any new Barcelona board is going to convince Leo Messi to take a paycut remains to be seen, because even though they must, as the victory over Betis showed; he is still a footballer and leader beyond comparison. He’s no shouter, sure, but he leads from the front and his presence improves others to levels beyond those they could usually reach. That’s a leader. A leader they cannot do without.

Again: Messi made Antoine Griezmann score without even touching the ball. He took the pressure off Sergio Busquets in the Barcelona midfield. He allowed Sergi Roberto to outweigh his defensive weakness with offensive strength. He made it all happen and showed that even though he may no longer “be the system” under Ronald Koeman, he is still the best thing within it by a million miles.

Leo Messi is a true footballing genius and, even at 35-years-old, he holds the keys to the future of FC Barcelona. Everything flows through him, from the football on the field to the fiscal health of it. He is FC Barcelona.