All the chips seem to be down, and it looks like all parties have played their hand. For culés, the footballing impact has not quite set in. For years, Lionel Messi’s heroics have bailed a declining Barça, and have allowed Bartomeu to make shady deals that make little sporting sense.
Without Leo, though, this veneer will be peeled off. No longer can Barça continue to rely on 50+ goals and assists from one source, and need to rebuild into a more collective effort. The offensive hole that Messi will leave cannot be understated. He is Barcelona’s attack, and without him the free-flowing attacking will be hard to replicate. Barça are in a unique position in world football. No other club is quite so reliant on a singular source for goal creation, and therefore, there isn’t really a point of reference. This really is uncharted territory. This is not to say that Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé and Ansu Fati won’t put in a shift. It’s the magnitude of the shift required that is worrying, in and of itself.
It may sound surreal to say this but the on-field impacts of this departure are fairly obvious. What is perhaps more understated is the commercial and political implication of Messi’s departure. The Messi brand rakes in millions for Barcelona, and compensating for this will take years of rebranding and commercialization of unrealised assets. This may mean pushing Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong and Marc-Andre ter Stegen to the fore while signing certain big-name players as well. It won’t be easy, mind you. The Messi brand is one of the most lucrative in the world. It is a commercial venture yes, but it is also a cult of personality, a moot point, an immediate identifier. Messi is a massive draw for casuals and those who belong to non-footballing families, a way to draw in ambiguous viewers. A way to cement Barça as a global entity.
Without his presence, the way to bridge that gap is unclear. Will the club use a multi-pronged rebranding? Will they attempt to push forward the youth? Make it into a more holistic endeavour. With Bartomeu at the helm? That is unlikely. Whatever way they choose, however, they have to act fast. The Barcelona brand, without a proper contingency plan, will decline fast. For Bartomeu and company, who often use their monetary exploits as a sign of progress, this would be disastrous.
Perhaps, disaster wouldn’t be the worst thing, as it stands.