Be still, my beating heart.
Don’t look now, but God might be coming home.
Lionel Messi is entering the final year of his contract with Paris Saint Germain, and the chances of him staying beyond that are highly unlikely. Though helping them to the Ligue 1 title last season, his time in France has not been what was hoped. Messi was not quite as dominant as we’ve come to expect, and the team of superstars failed to bring home their coveted Holy Grail, the Champions League. Truth be told, they did not gel as expected, and flattered to deceive most of the time. No surprise, then, that the Argentine’s old teammate and current Barca head coach Xavi Hernandez has asked to bring Leo home.
While the Blaugrana are well on their way to becoming a special team and may not necessarily need Messi anymore, the fact of the matter is every team can use a Lionel Messi, even a 34-year-old, fractionally diminished version. If he was to return to the Camp Nou, it would be slightly different to how we have always known it. Messi would no longer be expected to carry the full weight of expectation. Instead, he would be asked to help out where he could, perhaps as an inspirational substitute or big-time option for cup games. Without question, he would be a valuable mentor to the younger players, both in terms of technical ability and helping school them on what it means to play for Barcelona. He would be the standard bearer. His excellent relationship with Xavi means we already know there would be a harmonious relationship between player and coach. An intuitive understanding, even. Really, I don’t need to sell you the virtues of Lionel Messi on a football field, do I?
Adding weight to what might have otherwise simply been a fantasy with its only tenuous roots residing in the friendship between player and coach is a recent interview Barcelona president Joan Laporta recently gave to ESPN. In it he says the following, highly tantalising, words.
‘I don’t believe Messi’s chapter at Barcelona is over. And I believe it is our responsibility to make sure that chapter is still open, that it hasn’t closed.
‘To have a moment to do it how it should have been done so that he may have a much more splendid ending than what he had. If I feel like I owe him one? Yes.’
Laporta went even further, making explicit the depth of his feeling on the matter.
‘Morally, as the president of Barcelona, I think I did what needed to be done. But also, as Barcelona’s president, and personally, I believe I owe him one.’
No sugar coating or beating around the bush on that one, eh? That sounds as though Laporta might actually be serious. Of course, there are many hurdles to clear before such a thing could even begin to be imagined, but Messi belongs at Barcelona. He is la família. He never should have been allowed to leave. Bringing him home would put right one of the great footballing wrongs. Even if you are not a romantic in the way that many of us Barca fans are, looking at bringing him back makes sense from a more pragmatic, prosaic point of view too. Just think what a financial boost it would be to the clubs worse than empty bank account. T-shirt sales alone would flood the club with cash. Fans would rush the Camp Nou like never before. Media attention would be through the roof. As I sit and type this now, it begins to make more and more sense.
Lionel Messi is a very rich man, but he is also a family man and Barcelona will always be his home. No doubt he would want to get his children back to Catalonia as soon as possible. Presumably, he would be willing to reduce his wage demands to whatever the club can reasonably manage, even if just for a year. We owe him that. He needs to say a proper goodbye. We need to say a proper goodbye to him. Think of Messi returning to the Camp Nou and try not to well up with emotion. All those years he gave us magic and made us believe in the impossible.
Well, I believe in this.
He doesn’t belong in Paris, and he never did.
Lionel Messi belongs in Barcelona.
It’s time to bring him home.