When Ousmane Dembele went down in the first half of Barcelona’s 2-1 win over Getafe on Saturday, hearts were in mouths all around Spain. The newly signed Dembele had looked bright, athletic, and everything that Barcelona fans would want from a newly signed youngster in his first few games.
Dembele is expected to miss “between three and a half months and four months.” It’s difficult to gauge just how much it will impact Barcelona from a wins and loss perspective. Over the next few months they’ll likely be able to stay close to the top in La Liga without much of a struggle. It’s tough to see much happening in the Champions League group stages that Dembele’s injury alters all that much. Beating Juventus in match day one is a massive milestone, and now they should be able to compete and go through to the group stage despite Dembele’s absence.
The first thing that popped into my head when Dembele went down wasn’t the next few months, because as I outlined above, I believe Barcelona will be fine until he returns. But when the news of Dembele’s extended absence was released, all I could think about was how it could impact Lionel Messi’s contract situation.
Much has been made in tabloids around the world of Messi’s contract situation. Rumors of his interest in certain clubs, or lack of interest in certain clubs. Stories written about tense situations with the club’s hierarchy. Not much of this is incredibly verifiable, because Messi has been involved in ridiculous transfer rumors each year. But what makes this year a bit different, and concerning from the Barcelona perspective, is the odd actions that Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu has taken this summer.
Bartomeu amid transfer discussions with other players, as well as attempting to re-sign Messi and Andres Iniesta, has been criticized widely for his inability to get things done. In fact, even though Messi hasn’t officially been re-signed, Bartomeu for some reason is insisting that the deal is already done. Just as he did with Andres Iniesta.
"We will take the photo with Messi's signature, hopefully before the end of the year, but the contract has been signed by his father, who has the power of his image rights,"
"This contract is signed until 2021 and he is already playing under it."
Josep Maria Bartomeu | Source
For Bartomeu’s sake, hopefully Messi doesn’t come out and refute the claim as Iniesta did. Iniesta refuting the claim was a pretty odd and surprising outcome. If Messi came out and did the same thing, it would probably create a series of heart attacks in the Spanish and English tabloid offices.
The Messi situation has already been made weary by Bartomeu and his odd behavior over the summer. But what makes Messi’s situation so interesting is how the on field play and Barcelona roster impacts the entire ordeal.
Once Neymar left and Barcelona were in a perceived and somewhat real crisis of confidence, the roster was left in a fascinating situation. Barcelona had to figure out how to bring younger players in to attempt to match the production that they would miss from Neymar, but also bolster their roster from front to back.
Adding Dembele was a fantastic move for Barcelona. Although they didn’t get the multiple young stars they wanted this summer, he adds a level of athleticism and youth that Barcelona needed in the absence of Neymar. At the very least, Dembele provided Messi with the ability to back off being the sole creative force on the wing. Part of Barcelona’s problem moving forward is that Messi isn’t getting any younger, and needing him to drop back to the midfield to provide creativity going forward, as well as the attacking element, isn’t the best option for him or the club.
Dembele was going to take weight off Messi in Barcelona’s offensive scheme. His absence puts Messi back as really one of only creative forces for Barcelona that can drive the attack. As Messi continues to try and spur Argentine towards the World Cup, and drive Barcelona towards La Liga and Champions League glory, he needs help.
It would be irresponsible and ludicrous to suggest that Dembele’s absence is a direct positive or negative for Messi to sign a new contract with Barcelona. Unless Messi came out and said something, we have no way of knowing if he really does make a difference in Messi’s overall perception of life at Barcelona and if he wants to stay.
However, should things continue to become precarious in the coming months in Messi’s relationship with Bartomeu and Barcelona, it’ll be interesting to look back and speculate how Dembele’s injury impacts the situation. If things break bad, and Messi ends being difficult or possibly even leaving, Barcelona fans will have to wonder how things may have been different if Dembele had been around to take more of the load off of Messi.
At the very least, Dembele’s injury will have to be considered next year should things go sour between Messi and Barcelona.