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The future of Lionel Messi has been dominating the headlines for a while but now the Argentine genius is leaving Barcelona after over two decades. Image Credit: AP

We never thought we would see this day, but here it is. Lionel Messi is no longer a Barcelona player.

The news has shocked the football world and we now wait to see where the Argentinian ace will ply his trade next. There looks to be only one option available to him – Paris St-Germain in France after they emerged as the clear frontrunners for his signature on Monday ahead of Manchester City in England. Why were these two clubs the only options for arguably the greatest footballer that ever lived? Well, because these are the only two football clubs who could realistically afford a signing of such magnitude.

Sure, he would arrive on a free transfer which will save PSG millions - and we can only speculate what sort of price tag would have been on his head. When he was still a Barcelona player they apparently had a clause inserted into his contract ensuring that he would not be sold for less than £630 million. You could probably buy a small country for that. It is an astronomical sum, but, since he is a free agent and no longer on the Spanish Giants books, he will move for free to his next club who will then be able to afford to pay his wages which are believed to be £1.1 million a week.

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Messi was in tears yesterday during his press conference where he confirmed he would be leaving Barcelona after 21 years. Image Credit: Reuters

But are we really surprised to see Messi leave or was it on the cards anyway? At 34, he is in his golden years and perhaps playing in another country and a new team will be good for him. Or, perhaps it is a move that comes far too late in his career and he will struggle to adapt. Time will tell, meanwhile, the Gulf News football experts chime in with their thoughts on the whole saga…

He'll be better off at PSG than Man City...

Matt Smith, Sports Editor

The Lionel Messi saga looks to be finally nearing an end and, for me, I am slightly relieved he seems to be heading to Paris St-Germain.

As a Manchester City fan, one of the clubs Messi has been linked with since last summer, I feel the risks involved in landing Leo outweigh the benefits. Don’t get me wrong, Messi has time and again proven he is one of the greatest players of all time, and the way he handled his return to the Barcelona fold last season after a failed attempt to get out of his contract was commendable.

But now he really is out the door and moving to a new club after 21 years with the Catalan giants which will be a wrench for him and a gamble for any suitors. My concerns begin at City, where the arrival of a megastar like Messi could upset a very settled, content and unified dressing room. Any arrival of Messi would be sure to come with its list of demands in tow — including his famed No. 10 shirt and insisting on playing every game (he may even be after the captain’s armband).

Demands like these could damage the balance at City, where Pep Guardiola has built an immense team spirit among some talented players. Then there is the money. Messi’s wages will make any club flinch, even the likes of Abu Dhabi’s City and Qatar-backed PSG.

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It doesn't appear Messi will be joining up with his former Barca boss Pep Guardiola at Man City and if he does it could disrupt the squad.

The third worry will be the unknown ... How will Messi settle in at a new club after more than two decades in Spain? His 34-year-old legs will need to adjust to a new team, coach and environment. The best way I see that succeeding is alongside his best pal Neymar at PSG. He will help him settle and they link up brilliantly on the field. He will also thrive beside PSG star striker Kylian Mbappe — the pretender to Messi’s crown once he calls it a day (we need to start calling that front three ‘MNM’).

I really wish him all the best in Paris (except when we inevitably clash with PSG in the Champions League), but maybe he is better off over in France rather than the physical demands of the Premier League.

Imagine when he has to play against Barcelona...

Imran Malik, Assistant Editor

I don't even think we can imagine that. Messi, bending in a 30 yarder against Barca? During his press conference yesterday, he was unable to control his emotions. It is understandable – he is leaving the only football club that he has ever played for. He has won the lot with them. And during his glittering 21 years at the Camp Nou, he has established himself as arguably the greatest footballer on the planet.

In tears and unable to speak at times, Messi revealed he was not prepared to leave the club that he loves. That tells us everything we need to know. He wanted to stay at Barcelona. And the Catalans did not want to lose their icon. Both parties had been thrashing out a deal ensuring he would remain and apparently Messi even agreed to take a 50% pay cut on his salary to make it easier for the club to retain his services. And by all accounts, a deal had been agreed – however, La Liga regulations and financial fair play rules made it impossible for him to be able to stay. And so, Messi is bidding farewell to Barca, whose fans literally worship the ground he walks on.

He has called it "the most difficult" moment of his career. He added, "My family and I were convinced that we were going to stay here at home, that's what we all wanted more than anything. We've made this our home and we thought we would be staying in Barcelona. The time I've had here has been amazing but today I have to say goodbye to all of this. I've been here so many years, my entire life since I was 13."

Barcelona's Camp Nou will be eerily quite on the restart of La Liga.
Messi's magic will no longer be seen at the Camp Nou... Well, not unless he does it against the Spanish giants for his new team! Now, that would be an odd sight...

Barcelona are a club hugely in debt and president Joan Laporta has blamed the struggles on the coronavirus pandemic. He said had Messi stayed at the club it would have set them back 50 years. They simply couldn’t afford him. Messi says that he wanted to win another Champions League, but he ends his time with the club with an incredible trophy haul. There cannot be any regrets from his side – he gave his all for the club who won 4 Champions Leagues, 10 Spanish league titles, 7 Copa del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup 8 times. He leaves the Catalans as their all-time leading scorer with 672 goals from 778 matches. He is also the overall top scorer in the Spanish league with 474 goals from 520 matches.

Now, he will take that magic left foot to Paris – and if he ever has to play against Barca for his new side, well, now that would be very interesting to see indeed…

Barcelona will struggle, but they will rebuild...

Shyam Krishna, Senior Associate Editor

I absolutely hate to see Lionel Messi leave Barcelona. He’s been so much a part of Camp Nou that it’s difficult to imagine Barca without him. But all good things should come to an end. Even Messi should leave; only then can Barcelona move on and build another champion side.

Barcelona will cherish every moment of his 21 years there: his skills, his goals, his magic and the quiet demeanour. He was part of Barca’s golden generation that raked in trophies.

So where do Barca go from here? Sure, there will be a slump. In any case, they have been suffering of late. Even with Messi. Without Messi, the gulf with the other teams will grow wider. And there’s unlikely to be a revival any time soon.

Barcelona have always been on a high. I’ve followed their fortunes when Johan Cruyff’s total football brought tiki-taka to Barcelona in the early 1990's, which became its trademark. Another Dutchman Frank Rijkaard built on it, paving the way for Pep Guardiola’s coaching tenure that brought more glory.

Pep Guardiola brought a host of silverware to Barcelona when he was coach.

Even since Barca’s golden generation faded away, there hasn’t been much of a rebuild. Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Carlos Puyol and Messi are irreplaceable. Messi is the last of the golden generation to shed the Barca jersey.

Barcelona will look to the La Masia academy, which produced the golden generation, to create another crop of exciting talents. Only then can Barca return to the football spotlight. That would be better than the chequebook football, pursued by Real Madrid to put together a Galacticos team.

Barcelona shouldn’t brood over Messi’s departure. Times will be tough. There will be plenty of defeats and a trophy drought. That’s all fine if they can build a team of talented youngsters. Along the way, another Ronaldinho will come along to bring back the golden days.

Farewell Messi. Thank you for the goals and memories.

Lionel Messi played 45 minutes for Barcelona
Messi is on the move

His 10 best moments at Barcelona

It feels as if every time Messi wore the Barca shirt, he produced a moment of magic. That means 520 moments because that’s the number of games he played - but nobody has the time to trawl through them all so here we bring you his 10 best moments from his first hat-trick to breaking the goal-scoring record set by Pele…

First hat-trick:

It came against arch-rivals Real Madrid on March 10, 2007 when he was at the tender age of 19. To do what he did in one of the biggest fixtures in football, the el-clasico, takes serious talent. It was his breakthrough game for Barcelona and everyone knew his name after he got a brilliant hat-trick. On the verge of a 3-2 defeat, he rescued a point in tremendous style in injury time by beating a couple of defenders and lashing home to secure a 3-3 draw. Messi had announced himself to the world.

Greatest goal:

It was during a clash against Getafe in the Copa Del Rey in 2007 when he got the ball inside his own half and ran past everyone and then had the nerve to round the keeper and score with his right foot. It was similar to that incredible solo goal from fellow Argentine legend Diego Maradona where he beat the entire England team in the world cup in 1986.

Champions League goal:

He got his first goal in the final against Man Utd in 2009 and answered his critics who felt he couldn’t show his magic on the biggest stage against English clubs as he had failed to score in 10 Champions League appearances against them. But when the little forward jumped highest to head home he silenced everyone but the Barca faithful.

Lionel Messi Barcelona v Mallorca La Liga
There have been some truly magical moments during Messi's 21-year career with Barcelona.

Four goals against Arsenal, five against Bayer Leverkusen:

On April 6, 2010, he ran riot against Premier League side Arsenal in the quarter final of the Champions League by grabbing not one, not two, not three but four goals. And then two years later he bettered that goal by grabbing five against Bayer Leverkusen in the last 16 of the same tournament.

Record breaker:

He broke Barcelona’s goal scoring record on March 20, 2012 by grabbing a hat-trick against Granada. First he equalled Cesar Rodriguez's record of 232 goals when he got his first of the game and then he broke it with his second and then just to rub it in a bit more he got a third.

91 goals in 1 year:

He was on fire in 2012 and scoring for fun – so much so that he went on to get 91 goals that year to break Gerd Muller's record. He was awarded an unprecedented fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or for his achievement.

Breaks La Liga record:

Messi sure did love breaking a few records while at Barcelona. When they beat Sevilla 5-1 on November 22, 2014, he had grabbed yet another hat-trick. His first goal equalled Telmo Zarra's 251-goal record and then he broke that record with his second and that took it even further with his third, you know, just to make sure nobody gets close to it. What a pro.

500 goals for Barcelona:

When Real Madrid were beaten 3-2 in their own backyard at the Bernabeu on 23 April, 2017 it was Mess who fired home the winner in the dying seconds of the game. It wasn’t just the winning goal in the el clasico – it was his 500th for Barcelona too.

Lionel Messi with his sixth Ballon d'Or. Image Credit: AFP

6 Ballon d'Or awards:

Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the greatest players ever, has been awarded 5 which is an incredible haul. But, Messi has 6. Enough said…

Smashes Pele's scoring record:

Brazil legend Pele held the record for the most goals for one club - 643 for Santos. But on 22 December, 2020, Real Valladolid were beaten 3-0 and Messi was on the score sheet. It was his 644th goal for Barcelona.

Messi's roll of honour

Goals galore:

He didn’t just score literally hundreds of goals in his 21 year Barcelona career – where he also netted an incredible 48 hat-tricks – he created a fair share too. Naturally, the bulk of them came in the La Liga where he played the most number of games but he sure loved playing in the Champions League too. Here is a breakdown of his 672 goals and in which competitions he got them…

Goal Machine
La Liga:
520 games, 474 goals, 217 assists

Champions League:
149 games, 120 goals, 42 assists

Copa del Rey:
80 games, 56 goals, 36 assists

Spanish Super Cup:
20 games, 14 goals, 6 assists

UEFA Super Cup:
4 games, 3 goals, 3 assists

Club World Cup:
5 games, 5 goals, 1 assist

778 games, 672 goals, 305 assists
Star turn: Abu Dhabi hosted the Fifa Club World Cup and Messi’s all-conquering Barcelona Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma, XPRESS

Serial trophy winner:

You know how you’re quite proud of that one little medal you won at school that still sits on the bookshelf, well, Messi could fill your entire house with the trophies he has won. Here is a full list of honours he won at Barcelona:

List of honours
10 La Liga titles:
(2004-05, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11, 2012-13, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18, 2018-19)

4 Champions League titles:
(2005-06, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2014-15)

7 Copa del Rey titles:
(2008-09, 2011-12, 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2020-21)

7 Spanish Super Cup titles:
(2006, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2018)

3 UEFA Super Cup titles:
(2009, 2011, 2015)

3 Club World Cup titles:
(2009, 2011, 2015)

Individual honours:

When you are as good as Messi, chances are you’ll get quite a few individual honours. Well, he is the all-time leading winner of the Ballon d'Or, the oldest and most prestigious individual award for footballers. Here is a look at his individual honours:

Individual honours
6 Ballon d'Or awards:
(2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019)

6 European Golden Shoe awards:
(2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19)

8 Pichichi Trophy awards:
(2009-10, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21

The money in the game has gone crazy...

Imran Malik, Assistant Editor

Messi could not stay at Barcelona even though he wanted to and they wanted him to stay but his reason for leaving is because they could not afford him under La Liga and financial fair play regulations.

But it begs the question, are footballers paid too much? The simple answer is, yes. And we are not just talking about the top, top, top players here. Even some of the average ones who are sitting on the bench are paid a handsome reward for doing very little.

For instance, the average weekly salary of a nurse in the UK is £630. The Prime Minister gets £2,900. But, a Premier League footballer on average per week picks up an eye watering £50,800.

British pound
Players are being paid increasingly high wages because the clubs are making more money than ever.

Football players are more valuable than ever and Messi, according to various reports, is set to earn £60m a year if he signs for Paris St Germain. That works out to be £1.1 million a week… It is sheer madness.

The game is going through an unprecedented period of financial and competitive imbalance and only the super-rich can afford the very best players. If this trend continues and the best players end up at just the one or two clubs who can afford them – most likely Manchester City or PSG – where will this leave all of the others? They will not be able to compete, it’s as simple as that. The uber-rich clubs will dominate everything, and football will become boring and predictable and the game we love will not be the same if other clubs cannot compete for the big prizes. The gap will continue getting bigger on the pitch, and off it, and it is a truly sad thought.

There is a growing financial disparity which is destroying the unpredictability of the sport. I doubt we will ever see a fairytale story again where a club like Leicester City wins the Premier League title again – but that is exactly why we love the game. It gives every fan hope that their club will be successful even though deep down supporters of clubs without much financial clout know their team have little hope of being crowned champions of their domestic league or ever winning a Champions League title. It is unfair.

I support Everton and we’re struggling to hold onto a fella called Yerry Mina, and he’s not even that good. But he’s being offered more money by other clubs and looks set to leave. Loyalty in football went a long time ago, players go where the money is. It’s sad then that Messi who wanted to stay, is forced to leave his boyhood team because of money. It is spoiling the game…

Is he too old to play in another league?

Matt Smith, Sports Editor

Time waits for no man and even the seemingly once untouchable Lionel Messi has lost half a yard as his 34-year-old legs begin to creak after 21 years of service to Barcelona.

With his time at Camp Nou now at an end one question that is almost as big as the debate surrounding where he will go next is: Can he cope at a new club?

As I wrote above, Paris St-Germain are the logical destination as they look to complete the pieces of their Champions League puzzle — they believe Messi is the man to finally deliver that coveted silverware.

But there are a few other factors that should ensure Messi’s time in Paris is a success. He is expected to arrive in Paris today and the fans will give him a rapturous welcome when his name lights up the Eiffel Tower this week during a rumoured unveiling.

While moving to a new city will be emotional for Messi, he has his family with him, and his best buddy Neymar will be waiting to pick him up from the airport and show him the ropes in the French capital.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi controls the ball on the edge of the penalty area during the Spanish La Liga soccer match between Barcelona and Valencia at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.
He's still got it... Even at 34, Messi is showing no signs of slowing down and is still one of the greatest players of all time.

We also have precedents of success. Messi’s GOAT rival Cristiano Ronaldo has found success at Juventus in Italy at the age of 36 since departing Real Madrid, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been banging in the goals at AC Milan at a whopping 39 years old and settled in after his stint in the US.

While each situation is unique for each player, Messi’s mentality will stand him in good stead and he should embrace the new adventure.

The dedication to training and the way he looks after himself also means he has a few seasons left at the top.

If anyone can, Messi can.