Hope springs eternal. There may yet be another twist in the Lionel Messi saga at Barcelona.
The Argentine had Barca fans smiling again during some troubled times as he scored two and set up another in Monday night’s 4-1 win over Huesca as he achieved yet another milestone by equalling Xavi’s club record of 767 appearances for the club.
Messi looked set for the exit door last summer after a major falling-out with the Barca board. He expressed his desire to leave the club last season but was stopped by president Josep Maria Bartomeu, leading the 33-year-old striker to call the club’s management and Bartomeu himself a “disaster”.
To add to the chaos, local police arrested the now former president Bartomeu earlier this month. Bartomeu, as well as his adviser Jaume Masferrer, club CEO Oscar Grau and head of legal services, Roman Gomez Ponti, were all arrested in association with charges related to an alleged social media smear campaign that deliberately discredited players such as Messi and Xavi.
But with Joan LaPorta back in charge at the club in place of the ousted Bartomeu, maybe the legendary forward will be persuaded to stay, performing a U-turn on his transfer request last year at the club where he has been part of the set-up since he was a child.
Messi’s performance on Monday had all the key elements of the 33-year-old’s genius. In a game that celebrated his longevity, he showed his class with perhaps his best goal of the season, his creativity with an assist and his consistency, by making it 13 consecutive campaigns that he has reached 20 La Liga goals.
Barcelona, meanwhile, continue their own excellent form, with 11 wins and a draw from their last 12 matches putting them within sight of Atletico, who they still have to play at home in May.
Messi should break Xavi’s record on Sunday against Real Sociedad and the club toasted his achievement with a video that included tributes from numerous current and former teammates including Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Carlos Puyol and Xavi himself.
“You’re still breaking records,” said Suarez. “I think this one says a lot about you as a player and what you represent for Barcelona.”
“We think you’re extraordinary, something from another planet,” said Neymar.
On Monday night, manager Ronald Koeman had also changed his tune — having questioned Messi’s commitment earlier this season. The Dutchman hailed Messi as “the most important man in the history of this club”, appearing to open the door for the diminutive playmaker to extend his stay at Camp Nou.
In the coming few months, one way or another, we will get an answer.