Devil’s Advocate: Is Barcelona Better off without Lionel Messi?

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It’s been a couple of weeks since Lionel Messi shocked the football world by leaving Barcelona, but people still aren’t over the transfer. Somehow, the image of La Pulga in the navy blue of Paris Saint-Germain feels wrong. However, it’s happened and there’s nothing the Culés can do about the situation.

Well, there’s one thing – evaluate the future of the club. Right now, Barcelona is a mess, and Messi’s departure makes it twice as bad. Regardless, could there be an argument that the club may actually be better off in the long term without the Argentine?

Lower Expectations

After the team’s first La Liga game of the 2021-2022 season, Ronald Koeman said he thought it was the side’s best first-half performance under his reign, yet stressed he much preferred to have Messi in the squad, since he decides matches on his own. This is the primary issue with Messi – he’s far too good.

Without him, everyone can see Barcelona for what it is, which isn’t very healthy. The club lacks money, has been mismanaged to almost ruin and needs a serious rebuilding process to get back to the top of European and world football.

This is evidenced by the fact that Barcelona are the third-favourites in the La Liga outright football betting odds, currently staked at 11/4. If Messi was in the first XI, most fans and pundits would have assumed they would seriously challenge for honours, as they did during the last campaign due to his 30 league goals in 60 games.

However, Robert Lewandowski was the European Golden Shoe winner in 2021 with 41 goals in 82 games, leaving both of them with the same goals-per-game ratio. At least this term the football fraternity will be realistic about Barca’s chances.

Less Deadwood and More Shining Stars

Firstly, “deadwood” doesn’t refer to Messi. The well-seasoned player has persistently progressed, one-upping himself and defying odds at every opportunity, breaking records and populating the highest stats lists frequently.

The phrase describes the superstars that Barcelona paid a hell of a lot of money for, but arguably haven’t reaped advantages from. A prime example is Antoine Griezmann: when Messi was at the club, the hierarchy couldn’t offload the likes of Griezmann and Philipe Coutinho as it would have annoyed their captain. Unfortunately, they were on massive wages and reducing the opportunities for the new guard.

Once Messi left, the charade ended and Joan Laporta didn’t have to play politics. Griezmann, Miralem Pjanic and Junior Firpo all left, loosening the purse strings and providing fresh opportunities to the likes of Pedri and Ansu Fati, two men who look to be the future of the club.

Minimising the Damage

Sure, Messi leaving isn’t great and, without any money in the coffers, there hasn’t been much excitement in the transfer window for Barca fans. Unfortunately, that’s likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

Of course, it could have been worse if the replacements they signed were low-quality players. Thankfully, Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia and Memphis Depay are proven at the top level. Supporters shouldn’t expect the old days of Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, but this squad could challenge for silverware in three to five years.

In the short term, Messi leaving is a disaster. In the long term, it may be what the club needs to reverse a decade of bad leadership.