Ahsan Naeem considers the impossible…

Impossible? Maybe, but football is littered with examples of politics making the impossible possible.  From Luis Figo’s move to the Bernabeau to Robin van Persie following his dream from the Emirates to Old Trafford.  Of course Lionel Messi is different, unique, a man who the rules should be redefined for.  Certainly the length and breadth of Messi’s contract complete with billion pound buy out clause suggests a player who is unmovable.

Things aren’t quite as they seem though.  To understand the relationship which Messi has with Barcelona it’s worth tracing his history with the club back to those formative days when his family were planted in Catalonia with promises coming out of their ears but little in the way of action.  Although the people who had brought Messi to the club had great faith in him, the club’s president and other directors were less convinced and the Messi family were effectively put into cold storage until one day, a frustrated Messi senior, who had been promised a coaching role at Barcelona, wrote a lengthy letter to the club asking for clarification on the situation before his money ran out at the end of that month.

What followed was of course a rapid rise as the little genius made his way from Barcelona’s youth teams to the first team proper.  However there were people instrumental to that rise.  Txiki Bergiristain, Ferran Soriano, Pep Guardiola, and Joan Laporta in particular.  Having been voted in on a wave of eurphoria to replace an outgoing regime which had seen Barcelona fall well behind Real Madrid, these four men proceeded to shape and form a club which would not only harness Messi’s talents, but allow them to flourish unrestricted within a team so beautiful it is rightly now called the greatest team ever.  Players considered a bad influence on Messi were sold.  Anyone who had designs on areas of the pitch which belonged to Messi were told to know their place or ship out ( hi Zlatan ).  An all conquering all encompassing Barcelona team with Messi as their leader swept everything before them.

Then politics intervened.

Sandro Rossel was himself instrumental in Joan Laporta’s rise to president of Barcelona.  As Laporta’s technical director he helped secure the signatures of players like Ronaldinho for the club, but the two men’s egos were always going to lead to acrimony.  Even during their first season together running the club, there were tensions under the surface as disagreements raged about which players to sign.  In the end Rossel quit but vowed to come back and become president himself.

In 2010 Rossel finally got his wish as he ran against Laporta and won control of Barcelona. However this control came at a price.  Soriano and Begiristain, two men widely credited with helping shape and develop the new modern successful Barcelona left the club.  Pep Guardiola was always going to follow and many commented that his final season in charge (11/12) was a season too many.  In any case Pep left his post in the summer of 2012 as an era ended.  Such was the bond between Messi and Pep that it is rumoured he was inconsolable.

The season just gone has been a strange one for Barcelona.  They had effectively won La Liga long before Spring threatened to break and the superlatives heaped upon both the team, and Messi, reached a crescendo.  However as the season reached it’s climax and Barcelona began to tire and look a little jaded, it became clear that Messi’s influence was so pervasive that without him the team was a shadow of itself.  Relative European virgins PSG nearly disposed of them in the quarter finals of the CL, before Bayern Munich took them apart in the semi final.

Publicly there have been few recriminations with Tito Vilanova showing his calm by stating that no major changes were needed to the Barcelona squad.   However privately concerns have grown firstly about his health, but from a footballing perspective about the manner in which he has handled Messi in particular, and the key performers in his team as a whole.  There are murmurings of discontent at Tito’s lack of rotation in the early season, which some are arguing led to burn out.  Certainly his decision to field Messi in the first leg of their CL semi final against Bayern proved to be a catastrophic mistake.  In hindsight the decision looked so poor it could almost be argued Tito simply acquiesced to a demand from Messi to play because no coach in their right mind would send out a 50% fit player in the first leg knowing there’s a second leg coming.

The solution to none of this would seemingly be the sale of the best player in the world, yet it’s curious then to see Barcelona in such hot pursuit of the Brazilian Neymar.  Neymar and Messi simply cannot play in the same team together.  Barcelona will know this, more importantly, Zubizarreta will know this.  What’s more, Neymar stinks of the type of vanity signing which saw Rossel bring Ronaldinho to the club nearly a decade ago.  He’s an unproven show pony who will come with fan fare and an expectation to play every week.  He will represent the antithesis of the Barca ethos and in this writer’s humble opinion, will be their undoing.

Alright so it could be argued as a Manchester City supporter I’ve simply set out a narrative which helps me draw the conclusion which I want, Leo Messi in a Manchester City shirt.  But when you look at the fact the most influential men in his career are either already at City (Ferran and Txiki), or expected to come here one day in the future (Guardiola), and that his two closest friends in football  (Aguero and Zabaleta) already play in sky blue, then it doesn’t feel beyond the realms of possibility.  It will take a Brazilian peacock to land in Barcelona, and Sheikh Mansour to redefine World Record Transfer Fee, but it’ll happen.