The six-time Ballon d’Or winner as the world’s best soccer player announced his decision to remain with the club where he’s spent the last two decades on Friday in an interview with Goal.com, offering a lot of contradictory words about what all went down.
“When I communicated my wish to leave to my wife and children, it was a brutal drama,” Messi said. “The whole family began crying, my children did not want to leave Barcelona, nor did they want to change schools.”
But, then, he added, “My son, my family, they grew up here and are from here. There was nothing wrong with wanting to leave. I needed it, the club needed it and it was good for everyone. My wife, with all the pain of her soul, supported and accompanied me.”
And, yet, also, “I love Barcelona and I’m not going to find a better place than here anywhere. Still, I have the right to decide. I was going to look for new goals and new challenges. And tomorrow I could go back, because here in Barcelona I have everything.”
As much as all of that conflicts with itself, it does make sense. Messi is 33 and has been at Barcelona since he was 13. It’s home to him and to his family, but after a year of extreme frustration, he wanted to go … while also feeling pulled to stay because of all the good things about Barcelona, professionally and personally. And it’s easy to understand the position of a spouse being torn up about the possibility of moving while still being supportive of their partner chasing their dreams.
What dreams can Messi have at this stage of his career, when he’s already accomplished everything imaginable, outside of winning a World Cup?
“I want to compete at the highest level, win titles, compete in the Champions League,” he said. “You can win or lose in it, because it is very difficult, but you have to compete. At least compete for it and let us not fall apart in Rome, Liverpool, Lisbon. All that led me to think about that decision that I wanted to carry out.”
Messi was linked with a move to Manchester City, which lost to Lyon in this year’s Champions League quarterfinal, and has only been past that stage once, reaching the semis in 2016 before losing to Real Madrid. At Barcelona, Messi has been part of four Champions League-winning teams, although he did not make the lineup for the 2006 final after suffering a leg injury in the first knockout round against Chelsea.
The last time Barcelona didn’t play in the Champions League was the 2003-04 season, and what constituted a disastrous season for them in 2019-20 was finishing five points behind Real Madrid for the La Liga title, losing in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey after making six straight finals, and an admittedly embarrassing 8-2 drubbing by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals. Of course, Bayern went on to win the European title, so there’s somewhat less shame in that result, not to mention that every sporting event this year is being played under the cloud of coronavirus.
It’s the virus that extended Barcelona’s season past June 10, which was when Messi was supposed to have activated the opt-out clause in his contract that would have let him leave on a free transfer. Given his stated wishes of competing at the highest level, the universe may have done him a favor by forcing his hand to stay at Barça.