Football Features

Four things Barcelona must do to stop Lionel Messi leaving

By Muhammad Butt

Lionel Messi: Four things Barcelona must do to stop him leaving Camp Nou

Published: 17:35, 17 August 2020

Leo Messi wants to leave Barcelona, allegedly.

Rumours are circulating that the greatest player in the world has finally had enough of the club’s nonsense and wants a move elsewhere. Whether the rumours are true or not, the fact that they are even semi-believable speaks volumes.

Barcelona will be desperate to keep their superstar, but how can they ensure he doesn’t up sticks? What is needed to convince Leo Messi to stay at Barcelona? We’ve had a look and come up with four things that must happen in order for Messi to continue calling the Camp Nou home.

1. Regime change

The rumoured appointment of Ronald Koeman as first-team coach is a promising start for Barcelona, as the board desperately react to the ritual humiliation of losing 8-2 to Bayern Munich. Quique Setién is gone, and the Dutchman is a Blaugrana legend and has proven himself a very promising coach with the Netherlands, bringing the European powerhouse back into relevance on the world stage, playing beautiful football along the way.

But that won’t be enough to convince Messi to stay at Barcelona, because the coach himself was never the true problem. Neither Setién nor even Ernesto Valverde was ever the major issue, they were just coaches trying to do their best. The real problem was the board that hired both men and in Valverde’s case, kept him on well beyond the limits of his capacity.

This Barcelona board have made just about every mistake imaginable, but just looking at their two most recent: they didn’t sack Valverde after the Anfield debacle, and they have allowed the club’s finances to deteriorate so much that the club has genuinely had to sell a handful of players to stay in the black.

They have taken the Blaugrana from the best team in the world, and probably the best team in history, to the gaggle of half-wits we saw get plastered all over the Estadio da Luz. The board needs to go. Without that change, right at the top, anything else is cosmetic.

2. Build a coherent sporting project

Barcelona became the best side in the world off the back of an incredible sporting project put in place by Pep Guardiola and Tito Vilanova in 2008. They united the whole club behind their vision and it worked wonders, literal wonders.

That project left when Vilanova stepped down in 2013. Since then Barcelona have lurched from one manager to another, trying desperately to recapture or continue the glory of the project but never really being able to. Yes they won the Treble in 2015, and consecutive titles under Valverde, but these were moments led by the genius of individual players and the side’s collective excellence – not a system or project. Messi in particular has been working miracles since Neymar’s departure; and nothing sums it up more that the fact that the only game Barcelona lost in the 2017/18 La Liga season was the only game Messi didn’t play in.

What Barcelona must do to convince Messi to stay is start a new project, one which sees him as a veteran leader yet is coherent and cohesive enough for him to thrive in the twilight of his career. However, he will also want to be safe in the knowledge that the club won’t fall to pieces when he leaves. Players must be signed not because they have resale value or are marketable, but because they fit the system and its needs. La Masia must be used to its fullest.

The club must be united under one vision, pulling in one direction, all parts working to serve one end: sporting excellence. It has to be bigger than just players, there has to be an idea, a project. If that is put in place, then Messi will once again feel like he is at a proper football club instead of a withering husk of one.

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3. Force him out of his comfort zone

By virtue of the lack of a sporting project, Messi has had to develop certain shortcuts to stay happy and serene on the field. He has developed close relationships on the field with players like Luis Suárez and Arturo Vidal, and there’s definitely been the sensation that those players tend to feature so relentlessly because Messi like playing with them.

That’s not to say Messi is a dictator, but that in an effort to keep him happy whilst asking him to carry the club, managers have allowed him to settle into a comfort zone. As strange as it sounds, in order to convince him to stay he needs to be forced out of that. The likes of Suárez and Vidal, as useful as they could be in a squad role, must leave the club in order to signify clearly that things are different now.

Messi has responded to every challenge he has faced with a relentless ability and confidence. If Barcelona stop coddling him and challenge him one final time, but make sure it is a fair challenge, they they will get the very best of Messi.

4. Rebuild the squad (step-by-step)

The last step is the most obvious one: they need players! The reason this step comes at the end is because without the other steps, it’s just a Band-Aid as Barcelona should realise given that Luis Enrique’s side was just this: possibly the best Band-Aid in history papering over cracks with mountains of gorgeous football, goals and trophies delivered. However because he had no idea, no project, he couldn’t really help the side maintain their dominance and when Neymar left and Andres Iniesta got real old real fast, things fell apart rapidly.

But Barcelona do need players. What players? Well, a striker for starters. Suárez has to go, and needs replacing. Lautaro Martinez is a perfect fit to replace the legendary Uruguayan. He would cost a lot, for sure, but he would be a hand-in-glove fit up-top.

Other alternatives could be Alexander Isak at Real Sociedad, or Lyon’s Man City slayer Moussa Dembélé. The Blaugrana need a forward with technical skill, positional intelligence but most of all: pace. They are an achingly slow side at present and pace in attack is now essential if you want to dominate. They have enough wingers (well, providing Ousmane Dembélé’s luck turns and he has a season of health) but if the No. 9 was a dynamic athlete even Antoine Griezmann could thrive in the front three.

Midfield is basically fine. Assuming the departures of Vidal and Ivan Rakitic, they have four players who can play at the base (Frenkie de Jong, Sergio Busquets, Miralem Pjanic and Sergi Roberto) and then for the attacking spot they have a cadre of youngsters all itching to be given minutes and develop (Riqui Puig, Carles Alena, Monchu and new boy Pedri).

At the back they are clearly pursuing Manchester City’s Eric Garcia, and Guardiola has confirmed that the Catalan doesn’t want to extend his contract with the Sky Blues. Garcia would be a fine heir to Piqué, and Ronald Araujo is a solid back-up for both he and Clement Lenglet. Then in goal Marc-André Ter Stegen is great.

The second and third biggest needs after a striker are starting full-backs. Jordi Alba is quality in attack but he’s suspect at the back and about as mentally resilient as a pack of Digestive biscuits floating in a duck pond. Perhaps he survives a season due to their being no great opportunities on the market, but Junior Firpo (or the returned Juan Miranda) needs to be given more minutes in order to keep Alba focused.

Right-back is just a disaster, however. Sergi Roberto is a midfielder and it shows, meanwhile Nelson Semedo has all the skills you’d want a right-back to have but panics any time he’s put under a slight bit of pressure. Luckily for Barcelona, Ajax’s Sergiño Dest is a fan. The young American is a sensational talent who, thanks to his Ajax connection, will come readymade to fit the Barcelona system (that, per point two, will need to be implemented).

This squad would be able to play intense football, pressing from the front and playing a compact midfield that had the potential to explode forward into attack whilst also having the legs to get back and depends. They could play perfectly within a coherent system with the skills to improvise out of it. And obviously a lot of these moves would be funded by the sale of big earners and squad guys like Suárez, Vidal, Rakitic, Philippe Coutinho, Jean-Clair Todibo, Neto, Semedo and perhaps even Samuel Umtiti.

Barcelona don’t need loads of players, they just need the right players. There’s no need to spend for spending’s sake. Focus on a striker, a right-back and a centre-back this summer, then next year a winger and a left-back. If you address key positions, well, then they are sorted for years and even expensive signings become cheap. No one thinks about the £86m that Barcelona paid for Suárez, but everyone remembers the €30m they paid for André Gomes, or the €120m they spent on Coutinho, because those players were poorly scouted and did not deliver.

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