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Waiting for Messi, and Other Existential Questions

In Samuel Beckett’s existentialist play “Waiting for Godot,” the cast engage in much absurdist speculation whilst they await the arrival of the titular Godot, who fails to appear in the end. Despite being informed that Godot will in fact NOT be coming, the play closes with Vladimir and Estragon still standing beneath a leafless tree, waiting.  The play has become a cultural touchstone for any situation in which an event outside of ones control prevents one from moving on. Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau did this masterfully in this 1987 strip about the never realized Mario Cuomo run for President.

 

Waiting for Messi
Waiting for is one of Garry’s favorite strips

Waiting for Messi

The entire world of European soccer has been trapped in just such an existential conundrum since six time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi declared his intention to leave Barcelona after the Blaugrana’s devastating 8-2 loss to eventual winner  Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals. If that shoreline looks embarrassing, it was even worse to see live. It felt like the German giants were casually flinging individual Barca players into a woodchipper. By the next day always doomed manager Quique Setién was sent packing, and former Netherlands National team head man Ronald Koeman was brought in. And Lionel Messi decided he had had enough. after years of frustration and a tense meeting with Koeman, Messi requested a transfer away from. Camp Nou and the football world exploded. In slow motion.

It’s slow for a couple of reasons. Unlike his rival Cristiano Ronaldo’s amicable departure from Real Madrid to Juventus in 2018 (at the same age of 33 that Messi is today,) for 100 million euros, Barcelona have Messi under contract, with a whopping 700 million euro release clause (I’ll explain release clauses and transfer fees in next weeks primer.) The contract also has a clause that allowed Messi to leave for FREE at the end of each season (which is bonkers, but I guess they never thought it would happen?)  Barcelona and La Liga claim that the clause expired weeks ago, whereas Messi’s camp claim that the season JUST ended because the end date was pushed back due to Covid-19. Lawyers on each side are sharpening their pens for a legal battle unless an amicable decision can be reached.

Who Can Afford Leo, and is it a Good Idea?

If Barcelona stands firm on their demand for a kings ransom, the universe of clubs who can meet that demand is quite small. And even without the added outlay, Messi’s projected wages are also a huge factor. So only the big money clubs need apply. French champs Paris St. Germain could afford the bill and pair Leo with their own wunderkind Kylian Mbappe. Or there’s always the dream teamup with Ronaldo in Turin to consider. With Real Madrid’s pocketbook sewn shut that’s pretty much the extent of the options on the continent.

The Premier League would be the ideal challenge for the Argentinian. The deep pockets clubs in the traditional Top Six immediately come to mind. But even there the options are truncated. Arsenal are cutting costs rather than spending, hoping to build on what they already have. Liverpool are keeping their powder dry, and don’t really have a place to put a 33 year old forward. Manchester United have the cash but are using it on their back line and midfield. Chelsea are spending like sailors on shore leave, flush with cash from player sales of years past that they couldn’t spend due to their transfer ban. But they have already filled the holes a player like Messi might fill.

Manchester City or Bust?

A reunion with former Barca skipper Pep Guardiola on the Blue side of Manchester or mending fences with his current team seem the most likely outcomes of this drama. The two paired to win two Champions League titles in 2008/9 and 2010/11 and with are hungry to prove they can lead a team back to those heights.

Pep and Leo in happier times

But is it really that good an idea? That was Messi at the beginning of his run of four straight Ballon d’Or, and Guardiola was a different coach sub the the time, a more laid back manager taking advantage of an incredible roster rather than the evil genius behind the Citizens “sent from the future to destroy English Football,” attack. With only one ball to go ’round, who gives up their minutes (or is sold for funds,) to make room on the pitch? And even though most analysts will tell you that Messi is still in the conversation for best player in the world, so is midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne. Is the locker room big enough for two football geniuses? Especially one that doesn’t run very hard anymore?

Worst of Both Worlds Avoided!

Just like Beckett’s play, real life has led us right back to where we started, although instead of waiting for Godot to arrive we are left waiting for Messi to leave. In a decision that made no one really happy Messi announced this afternoon ( 9-4-2020,) that he would return to Barcelona four the last year of the contract he signed in 2017.  Not wishing to drag his beloved team through a protracted legal battle they seemed determined to fight, Messi gave in but certainly hasn’t surrendered. Quoted in the Guardian…

Messi claimed he had repeatedly informed Bartomeu he wanted to leave throughout the season and offered a portrait of a club that “has had no project or anything for a long time”.

He stays unwillingly and far from happy. He has one year left on his deal, meaning he can talk to other clubs officially from 1 January and walk out next summer – a year late.

 

“I told the club that I wanted to go. I had been telling him that all year,” he said. “The club needed new, younger players and my time was over.”

So we’ll be going through this again in 12 months or so although there will be less chaos involved. The current Barca regime are pretty much dead men walking, heading into a season that  begins in turmoil and has no promise of a happy ending. Board elections are officially scheduled for next March, at which point an entirely new era at Camp Nou will begin.

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