When Barcelona lost to Celta Vigo and visuals of the Argentine shaking his head in disappointment appeared in the media, many fans thought Lionel Messi had become discontent with his life at the club and was looking for a change. It was claimed he might leave Barcelona after spending more than 20 years with the Catalan club, which he joined as a 13-year-old in 2000.
The speculation grew further after he skipped Barca's last game of the season against Eibar, while pundits believed Messi had played his last match at Camp Nou in Barcelona's colours.
In recent years, Messi has been unhappy with the club's trajectory. Multiple reports have said that Messi is actually frustrated with Barcelona because his team has been unable to win enough titles.
Last year, Messi sent shockwaves around the football world after he made a move to leave Barcelona. The club refused to let him go, but he didn't initiate legal proceedings because he didn't want to spoil his relationship with the club.
The biggest reason for Messi's unhappiness with Barcelona is the current financial status of the club. Their finances are in a mess, as the club has accumulated a debt of $1.1 billion, which means they can't buy players who are considered to be expensive. For example, a $110 million move to buy Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland failed to take off due to the high costs involved.
Besides, considering the high costs involved in keeping Messi, Barcelona would need to procure a loan to buy players during the summer transfer season. According to Messi's contract, which is set to expire in June, his total yearly earnings at Barcelona are well over $110 million.
While Barcelona have tried to make amends by replacing Josep Bartomeu with Joan Laporta as the club's president, the damage has already been done. On the other hand, Laporta also knows that keeping Messi at Barcelona isn't that easy, considering the club's tricky situation vis-a-vis its finances. Messi's new contract will surely have implications on Barcelona's transfer budget.
During the last season, there were enough signs that Barcelona wanted to reduce their salary bill after they allowed Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, and Arturo Vidal to leave. Ronald Koeman is also expected to be sacked as coach as he has had a frosty relationship with Messi and has failed to deliver results for the club.
While recent reports suggest that Messi is all set to stay at Barcelona, he would have been one of the most sought-after players, if he hadn't signed a new contract with Barcelona. Clubs like Manchester City, Chelsea and PSG have more than enough money to not just buy him, but to pay him his astronomical weekly wages.
The six-time world footballer of the year is still one of the most in-form players in the world. He scored 38 goals in 47 matches across all competitions, including 30 goals in the La Liga, making him the leading goal-scorer in the Spanish league last year. However, what has failed Messi is the wide gap between him and his teammates. Unlike Suarez and Neymar, the current lot of Barca players have not been able to keep up with Messi and that's why the club has failed to win trophies in recent times.
According to former Indian midfielder Syed Rahim Nabi, who has also represented Atletico de Kolkata (ATK Football Club) in the Indian Super League (ISL), Messi should have left Barcelona for good, as that would have given him a new challenge.
In an exclusive chat, Nabi told Sputnik, "Messi has never played anywhere except Barcelona, but if he does leave Barcelona, he will have to prove himself yet again. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, who started with the English Premier League before attaining success in the La Liga and the Serie A, Messi should take a new challenge just to show that he can achieve success at any club in the world and not just at Camp Nou''.
He added: "Like Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who have played in almost all the prominent leagues in Europe, Messi should taste and experience what it is like playing in England, Italy, or France. In fact, Messi would feel completely different at a new club, where he could gain a new army of fans besides winning a new set of trophies, which he hasn't won in Spain in the past few years".
Messi's decision to make a U-turn and stick with Barcelona isn't completely a surprise; after all, when one stays at a particular club for more than 20 years, one can become emotionally attached to it, with the mere thought of leaving it haunting a player almost each day. Moreover, the new management at the club would have understood the financial repercussions of Messi's departure, as the Argentine is their biggest asset and losing their biggest asset would have created a negative image of the club in the eyes of its loyal fans.
Messi, who will turn 34 next month, has an excellent fitness record and as a player, he has been simply outstanding. Despite a few injuries here and there, Messi has played at least 30 games for Barcelona in each of the last 13 seasons and his decision to stay at Barcelona is a true sign of his commitment to the club. If he would have left the club, it would have been a monumental event in football, but Barcelona somehow managed to avoid that tricky situation by deciding to offer a new contract to the player, who is arguably the greatest of all-time.