Five reasons Barcelona might actually be better off without Lionel Messi

GOAT’s departure is not a reason for doom and gloom at Camp Nou, as Matt Whiley explains.

With such a long and deep connection to one club, it was hardly surprising to see Lionel Messi in tears when he formally announced his departure from Barcelona.

The sense of loss was felt at Camp Nou, too - in an 18-year spell, Messi contributed 672 goals in 778 first-team appearances, not to mention 266 assists.

The club will now look to the future without their star man, possibly with some trepidation.

However, could the Catalan giants actually prosper without Messi? Planet Sport looks at just why Paris Saint-Germain's gain might not necessarily be Barca's loss.

1. Opportunity to start afresh

Tearing down Lionel Messi mural Barcelona Aug 2021

There comes a time when a fresh start is beneficial, and although it might not seem like it now, there is ample opportunity for Barcelona to reset and plot their way forward. This day was always going to come, whether Messi signed for another club or retired at Barcelona.

The fact that it has come in unexpected circumstances is hardly ideal; the Blaugrana would almost certainly have preferred more time to smooth out the transition to a Messi-less world, but the short, sharp shock may yet be a blessing in disguise.

With the pressure on for Barcelona, the need to rectify a now-urgent situation should provide focus in the minds of the club's hierarchy, and that may allow them to take the club forward in the right manner. One man had perhaps become too representative of the club as a whole, and a clean slate might be beneficial.

Remember 'mes que un club'? It's time to return to that, following a period as 'mes que un one-man club'.

Lionel Messi, One Club, Barcelona Aug21

2. Less reliance on one man

Lionel Messi in the stands Barcelona Jan21

The fact that Messi had become Barcelona and Barcelona had become Messi was never more evident than on the pitch. The little Argentine's supreme talent often provided moments of magic, winning games almost on his own when the cause looked lost.

But was that necessarily a good thing? The stats clearly show an almighty drop off in Barcelona's productive output when Messi didn't play versus when he did, and although that is hardly unusual when a talisman is out, Messi was tipping the balance into overdependence.

Lionel Messi Barcelona Mar21

Between August 2017 and February 2020, Messi played 129 times for Barcelona in all competitions, with the club winning 88 of those games, and losing just eight. There were 303 goals scored, at a rate of 2.3 per game. Compare that to the 26 games they played in that same time period without him, of which they won 15 and lost seven, seeing their win percentage drop from 68.2% to 57.7%, and their loss percentage rise from 6.2% to 26.9%.

The club may not quite hit the dizzying heights of winning almost 70% of their games, but spreading Messi's impact, guarding against any higher-quality players being injured or suspended, should mean they are far more consistent across all games.

3. More chances to open teams up

Lionel Messi Barcelona Real Madrid Apr 2021

Defenders knew Messi. They perhaps didn't know how to stop him, but they certainly knew what he was capable of, and that forced them back into their shells. Managers would come to the Camp Nou and put 10 or 11 men behind the ball, with the hope of nicking a point.

That made things almighty difficult for Barcelona, who would struggle to break down a well-drilled unit unless Messi could produce a true defence-unlocking moment of sheer genius. He could frequently do just that, but not always, and Barcelona would sometimes drop valuable points in a title race.

A Messi-less Barcelona presents a far more enticing task for opposition managers. They know that they still have to overcome one of the best sides in European soccer, but they have far less to fear when it comes to advancing forward.

That presents a neat opportunity for Barcelona to re-evaluate their style, inviting themselves to be attacked by far less cautious sides who smell an upset, before hitting them on the counter with the space left behind. It may not work in the long term once sides figure it out, but when you're Barcelona, it's all about success right now.

4. Burden of debt released a little

Lionel Messi Barcelona free mar 2021

Barcelona are, to put it as pleasantly as possible, up the financial creek without so much as a one euro coin to use as a paddle. The club's recent accounts, published in January, were so horrifying, you'd be forgiven for thinking they had hired Stephen King as their accountant.

The numbers put Barcelona almost a billion in debt. It's a quite staggering amount of money, and one that puts them, as a soccer club - yes, a gigantic, world-famous one, but still only a soccer club - more in debt than several governments.

Messi's annual earnings at that point were estimated to be up to almost €141million in salary and other incentives, with a base wage of slightly over half that. Barcelona were spending 110% of their annual income on player wages.

Losing Messi? At least one office in the bowels of Camp Nou is cheering, and it's the one with 'Accounts' on the door.

5. You might win something with kids

Pedri Barcelona Aug 2021

Nobody tell Alan Hansen, but the trophies could still come to Barcelona with a dip into the youth academy. Even if he was still a Barca player, Messi is 34; he won't carry on forever. The hierarchy in the academy will have hoped this day was forever a long time away, but they will have still planned for it.

The likes of Riqi Puig, Ansu Fati and Pedri are all precocious recent graduates of the academy. Clubs have gone through the pain in the past of a top-class, revered hero retiring or leaving, and they have moved on. Barcelona will do that too.

The much-feted La Masia is, after all, where Messi came from too, so who's to say it can't produce again? To those saying there will never be another like Messi - it may be true that there won't be another for a while, but it is a flat out falsehood to assume that we will never see his sort again. We will.

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