The Future of Leo Messi ~ A Return to Barcelona?

It couldn’t happen … right? Will Lionel Messi, the G.O.A.T, the World Cup winner, the 7x Balon d’Or winner, return to the Blaugrana after his 2 year-stint in Paris? In a world where Cristiano Ronaldo plays football in Saudi Arabia, Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets called up to the Swedish national side at the age of 41 and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is Bayern Munich’s second top goal scorer in 2023, anything is possible!

The summer of 2021 was an extraordinary time to be an aficionado of ‘The Beautiful Game’. In particular, the warm summer months were heart-wrenching times for Leo Messi fans around the world. In July, La Pulga completed his life-long dream of winning silverware with Argentina by winning the 2021 Copa America. Lifting the trophy in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, the Argentinian captain was on top of the world as his 4 goals in the tournament helped bring home La Albiceleste’s first major trophy since 1993.

(Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)

However, it all came crashing down for the Atomic Flea a mere 26 days later. On the 5th of August 2021, less than 2 years ago, Leo Messi’s status at Barca would dramatically shift and the course of football history would drastically change. On that miserable evening, Barcelona announced via their social media that their club captain was leaving the side as a free agent as he could not be registered with La Liga because of Barca’s dire economic and financial fair play problems.

The world was initially skeptical and downplayed the announcement. I mean, there was no way that Messi was leaving Barcelona because of Financial Fair Play rules. Iconic Spanish midfielder and Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets thought it was a joke. Sergio Aguero, the close friend of Leo’s and Barcelona’s 2021 summer signing, insisted on a live stream that the club’s social media must have been hacked.

But, the announcement was later confirmed on the 8th of August as Barcelona held a press conference with their greatest-ever player confirming his departure. In an emotional and moving press conference, the boy from Rosario balled his eyes out as he said goodbye to the only club he had ever known. In what was one of the most shocking press conferences in football history, the world was unaware of what the future would hold for Leo Messi.

(Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images)

Later that month Messi would join Paris Saint-Germain in his ongoing attempt to capture his first Champions League trophy since 2015. Deemed as one of the best transfer windows ever, Messi joined ‘The Parisians’ with Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, Gianluigi Donnarumma and Georgino Wijnaldum. With superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe already in the side, PSG instantaneously became the favorites to win the Champions League for the first time in club history.

Domestic success was inevitable with PSG winning the 2021/22 Ligue 1 season by an astonishing 15 points. The current 2022/23 season holds similar results, with the Parisian club being 7 points ahead of Marseille with 10 games left to play. Adding to PSG’s trophy cabinet, the side were also victorious in the 2022/23 edition of the Trophee des Champions.

(Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP) (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite this, European glory did not come to be for The Parisians. On the European stage, PSG’s ambitions and aspirations were cut short in the Round of 16 by Real Madrid and then Bayern Munich. These two rounds of 16 exits mean that Messi has not reached the semi-finals of the UCL since 2019! With PSG struggling to compete for UCL glory in Messi’s short stint at the club, it could ultimately deem his 2 years in France a failure for his European aspirations.

(Photo by FRANCK FIFE / AFP) (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

The time since La Pulga’s departure from the Blaugrana has not been too favorable for Barcelona either. 3 months after Leo Messi’s dramatic move to France, legendary La Masia graduate Xavi took the reigns at his former club. But things were not looking too stable for the Catalans in late 2021. In Xavi’s first month on the job, Barcelona collected a total of 11 points out of a possible 18 in La Liga. To make matters worse, the Blaugrana drew 0-0 to Benfica and lost 3-0 to Bayern Munich in the UCL. These results saw Xavi’s side being knocked out of the UEFA Champions League in the group stage for the first time since the 2004/05 season. The end of the 2021/22 season saw Barcelona acquire a total of 73 points, the least that the Catalonian side acquired in a season since the 2007/08 La Liga season.

Following a historically bad season for the Blaugrana, Xavi’s side has so far had a more compelling 2022/23 season. Despite being knocked out of the UEFA Champions League in the group stage for the second straight season, Barcelona’s domestic success has kept the Barca faithful optimistic for the future. After 26 games, the Catalans hold a 12-point lead above fierce rivals Real Madrid in the league. Along with this numerical advantage in Spain’s top flight, Xavi’s side won the Spanish Super cup with a 3-1 victory against the Los Blancos. Although Barca exited the Europa League in the round of 32 to English giants Manchester United, the Blaugrana currently hold a 1-0 lead on aggregate in the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey against Real and are hoping to make the final of the competition.

(Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)

Fast forward to today: Lionel Messi is out of contract in the summer and Barcelona look more menacing than ever with a potential domestic treble on the cards. Is the Argentinian’s return to the Spanish outfit the move to push Barca over the edge and finally compete on the European stage? Defensively, Barca have been one of the most impressive and solid teams in all of Europe. Conceding 9 goals and keeping 19 clean sheets, Xavi’s men have conceded the least goals and kept the cleanest sheets in all of Europe’s top 5 leagues. Along with the Blaugrana’s defensive solidity, their youth and up-and-coming talent set up a bright future for The Catalans. First-team regulars: Pedri, Gavi, Fati, Balde, Araujo and Kounde are all under the age of 24. Messi’s return to the Spanish side could create a nice blend of youth and experience which could potentially challenge any side in European football.

If Messi were to join his beloved Barcelona though, what would be his role in the team? Barcelona’s impressive defensive track record comes with ubiquitous effort across the pitch and Xavi would hope that Messi’s older age and lack of defensive ability would not impact that. A suitable role for La Pulga at the Blaugrana could be comparable to a quarterback in the NFL. On offense, Messi could play slightly behind Polish striker Robert Lewandowski. This position enables Messi to effectively utilize his unrivaled passing range where he can spray through balls left right and center to Lewandowski, Dembele and Fati. Along with this, a second striker role allows the boy from Rosario to receive progressive passes in between the midfield and defensive line, enabling him to dribble and weave through defenders with ease. Defensively, Xavi could play a 4-4-2 formation, with Messi and Lewandowski the two strikers and his wingers tucking in in order to create a compact midfield line. Utilizing the ‘Atomic Flea’ in this role could highlight his strengths of creativity whilst concealing his defensive frailties, something that Mauricio Pochettino and Christophe Glatier have not exactly been able to do at Paris Saint-Germain.

(Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)

Another important question to consider in this ground-breaking but somewhat realistic hypothetical: how long does Messi’s potential last European stint last? At the ripe old age of 36 years old, it would be unrealistic for the Blaugrana to sign their best-ever player on a long-term contract. Whilst the boy from Rosario has achieved everything there is to accomplish in football, there is no doubt the Argentinian’s passion for ‘The Beautiful Game’ will encourage him to continue playing for a little bit longer.

Prior to the 2022 Qatar World Cup, Messi claimed that the 22nd edition of the tournament would be “the last one” for him in an interview with Star Plus. However, the 2022 World Cup Golden Ball winner has since suggested that he is open to playing the next World Cup in the US, Mexico and Canada.

Hence, Barca could sign Leo Messi on a 3-year deal from the summer of 2023 to the summer of 2026. The Catalans and President Joan Laporta would hope that the Argentinian could continue his world-class form for the full duration of his contract. Despite that though, I think all members of the Barca board and worldwide Barcelona fans would not be too bothered if Messi’s performances declined, as their G.O.A.T would finally return home.

Ultimately, Leo Messi’s pursuit to win his 5th Champions League trophy could land him anywhere in Europe and even keep him in Paris for a longer duration. However, with Kylian Mbappe’s future undecided and Neymar’s physical inconsistencies it would be wise for PSG’s number 30 to find himself a new home come this summer. With Xavi’s Barcelona looking defensively solid and filled to the brim with bright future talents, perhaps a dramatic return to his maiden club can elevate Messi’s final run at UCL glory and help bring Barca’s 6th European title.

.(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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