Football Features

The pros and cons of Lionel Messi going back to Barcelona

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:59, 30 March 2022

Could Lionel Messi be about to make a sensational return to Barcelona in the summer, just one year after he left for PSG?

The answer appears to be a resounding ‘no’. That’s according to club president Joan Laporta anyway, who recently went on record to distant links between the Argentine immortal and the Camp Nou.

“There’s no conversation with Leo Messi over his potential comeback to Barca,” Laporta told RAC1. “The reality is that we’re not considering this possibility. Leo is Leo, he’s the best – but this kind of deal is not part of our plans.

I’ve received no message from Messi or his agents over a possibility of returning back to Barcelona. As of today, we are not going to be raising this issue.”

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Of course, speculation will continue to intensify. After all, this is Lionel Messi, and just over a year ago, he looked destined to sign a new contract with Barcelona, but financial obstacles ultimately prevented the diminutive genius from signing on the dotted line.

And even as Laporta speaks clearly that Barcelona aren’t looking to bring Messi back, he can’t help but extend an olive branch that will, of course, lead to more speculation.

My communication with Messi is no longer fluid,” he admitted, which figures given the fractious nature of his departure. “But I’d love to have Leo here present with us during the inauguration of the new stadium.”

Laporta would “love” Leo back, as would many fans, but is it even a good idea? We have a look at the pros and cons of bringing one of the three greatest players in the history of the game back to the stadium he calls home.

Pro: The emotional beauty

Just imagine it! Messi left Barcelona while the club was in a ruinous state; he didn’t want to go but he had to in order to allow the club to get back on its feet. And now Barca have done it, he returns to the club he loves knowing his financial presence won’t hurt them.

The fans, who never really got to see Messi properly at the end, as the pandemic denied the Argentine a full stadium to play in front of, would get their chance to offer their full-throated love and appreciation for their greatest-ever player.

Messi would compete in the 2022 World Cup as a Barcelona player, chasing his ultimate career goal while knowing he belongs to Barca. And when he’s succeeded or failed in his quest, he gets to retire as a Barcelona player, the club of his life, with the entire Camp Nou singing his name. What more beautiful and fitting send-off for the man can you imagine?

Con: The dressing room chemistry

Messi was Barcelona’s captain when he left, he was the senior figure in the dressing room. After the club won the 2021 Copa del Rey, all of the players under 25 lined up to take a photo with the trophy, and Messi. He was the main man.

Players who have known nothing but Messi as Barcelona’s kingpin have now, in his absence, constructed a new kind of dressing room. A new harmony with new voices and leaders expressing and asserting themselves.

Throwing a massive presence like Messi back into that dressing room full of young men coming into their own is bound to lead to issues.

Pro: The Gento Factor

Leo Messi holds just about every record going in Spanish football, but there’s a couple he doesn’t have that must really sting. Messi has won La Liga 10 times and the Champions League four times. However, these are not records, with Paco Gento having won La Liga 12 times and the Champions League six times.

When Messi won his last Champions League, in 2015, it seemed a matter of when, not if, he would overtake Gento for both clubs. But the decline of Barcelona wrought by Josep Bartomeu and his cronies denied Messi, and he left short of Gento.

But what if he came back? The Champions League record seems a long way off, sure, but winning La Liga three more times? That could definitely happen. And imagine Messi being able to retire with more La Liga titles than any other player in history? Seems apt!

Con: An ageing dribbler in decline

Father Time is undefeated, and over the last year we’ve seen him finally come for Leo Messi. Duels that he previously would have won with ease are now a struggle, and while his hips still let him drive past opponents, he no longer has any breakaway speed to speak of, so opponents can always catch him. And when it comes to physical contests he nearly always comes out on the losing side.

While Messi would definitely have no issues in slotting into the tactical shape (in theory) of Xavi, when you consider his declined physical state, then it becomes tricky. Does he play wide? He doesn’t have the pace, nor the skill-set, to play as a winger in Xavi’s system, where the wingers play truly wide and get through a lot of hard work in defence and attack.

Could he play up-front? Sure, it’s possible, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has given a perfect example of what a dynamic, athletic no. 9 can bring to the side. Why would you sub that out for Messi? More control? Sure, but goals win games!

The only way Messi fits into this side is as a super-sub, coming off the bench to help the Blaugrana add control and see out a win. Or to play midfield in a Hail Mary, as they chase an equaliser to avoid defeat.

And would you really go through all the drama of signing Messi only to use him as a sub?

Pro: The financial factors

Among all the other benefits of Messi’s return, the financial one is undeniable. All the focus would be on the tactical side, or the emotional one, because they would provide the most satisfactory catharsis, but Messi means money.

Not just money spent, but money earned. A club that can put Messi’s face on billboards and in adverts becomes much more attractive to sponsors.

Barcelona’s recent deal with Spotify seems brilliant at first glance until you see just what the Blaugrana gave up for that money. There’s no doubt that the club lack a true global superstar with colossal brand appeal, and that perhaps made them less valuable to a company like Spotify.

Messi would change that.

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Con: The team has moved on

Ultimately, no matter what else, the main reason Messi shouldn’t return to Barcelona (except to play one last Joan Gamper Trophy and retire) is that the team has moved on.

They’ve moved on tactically, physically and mentally. The arrival of Xavi has heralded a new dawn at the club. The malaise of Ronald Koeman has been lifted and no one is sat around whining about what Barcelona aren’t. They’re focusing on what Barcelona are and can be.

Messi would be a beautiful hit of nostalgic dopamine for the fans, but he would return to a team that has learned to live without him. And given Messi is a player who has to be a key part of the system to perform at his best level (which is the reason he’s struggled at PSG, there is no system to speak of), bringing him back to a team that doesn’t need him would only lead to a watered down version of Messi.

And the fans deserve better than that. Messi deserves better than that.

The Argentine’s Barcelona career ended with 13 straight world-class seasons, 13 seasons where he was the best player in the world. Let that be his legacy in Barcelona, rather than tainting it with a second period, which can only fail to live up to the glorious memories he gave each and every Barcelona fan for years.



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