An ode to Lionel Messi

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Lionel Andrés Messi’s glittering career at Barcelona was not supposed to end at a press conference at the Auditori 1899 beside the Camp Nou. He was to be given a hero’s send off at a full Camp Nou like Xavi and Andres Iniesta were given when they called time on their career’s at the Catalan club.

Instead Messi departs the club of his life under duress in a flood of tears. He wants to stay at Barca and Barca want him to stay but La Liga’s wage cap and an unwillingness from the league to allow the club to restructure the payment of his wages means he has had to seek pastures new.

Thursday evening’s news came as a knockout blow to Barcelona fans around the world, it was a done deal Leo would renew his contract taking a 50% pay cut and the love affair would continue. Barcelona President Joan Laporta was convinced he had figured out how to keep the greatest player the club has ever seen but he too was left in pieces when La Liga put their foot down.

The reasons for his departure are complex and are mostly of Barcelona’s own making thanks to the horrific mismanagement of the club by the last board of directors. Barca are a club on the verge of bankruptcy due to the obscene transfer fees and wages paid out following the sale of Neymar for €222m to PSG.

I don’t want to focus on how we got to this point, I want to share how heartbreaking this moment is for me and no doubt thousands of others around the world.

My love affair with Lionel Messi started long before he became a superstar.

I fell in love with the game of football and FC Barcelona because of Lionel Messi. My earliest memories of watching him play come from the 2005/06 season when I was only seven years old. At this stage Messi was unknown to many outside of Barcelona his star had not yet risen but I was mesmerised by the little Argentine.

I can’t explain why but I picked him as my number one player, my hero, my idol. Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Deco, Puyol and Xavi didn’t interest me, all I cared about was him. When my parents visited the Camp Nou in 2006 they rang home to ask what jersey I would like. My response was clear Messi. They pushed me to change to Ronaldinho but I was not for changing and so my first Barcelona arrived home with them a few days later with his name on the back.

It would be the first of many jerseys I would own with his name on the back. For me Messi has been Barcelona and Barcelona has been Lionel Messi. They are inseparable.

It may be hard for some to understand but Messi has become an integral part of my life even though he doesn’t know I exist. I was upset in 2006 when he was ruled out of the Champions League final, I shed tears in 2008 when he tore a thigh muscle in a Champions League tie against Celtic. His heartbreak has been my heartbreak, his triumphs have brought me endless joy.

I have watched the world come to the realisation that he is the greatest to ever play the game, I have seen people hop onboard the bandwagon and support him and I have been frustrated by the criticism he has been given. I have been enraged by suggestions I only started to support him when Pep Guardiola’s dream team took the world by storm. Most people don’t know Messi like I know Messi.

Throughout my life I have always had Messi and Barcelona to cheer me up I have gotten through school and college exams by looking forward to watching Messi take to the field in La Liga or the Champions League. That has been taken from me, my heart has been ripped from my body with the news he is departing.

Messi has given me countless moments of unbridled joy.

I knew in my heart one day he would have to hang up his boots but I genuinely believed when that day would come it would be on his own terms and that it would come at Barcelona. I didn’t foresee the club being run into the ground so much so they would be unable to keep their greatest ever player. I have no doubt the events of the last few days have taken a heavy toll on Messi and his family. His wife Antonela loves the city, their three children Thiago, Matteo and Ciro will leave behind their schools and their friends. Messi admitted when he looked to leave last summer his children’s tears made him reconsider.

Messi’s story at Barcelona is unparalleled in world sport, they took a risk on a 13 year old from Rosario who had a growth hormone deficiency and over 21 years he developed into the greatest player the world has ever seen and he carried the club to the very top of the game. He has never given less than 100% and he has always acted in the best interests of the club.

From reading this you would think Messi has retired but he has not, instead he will play in another jersey, most likely PSG. The unimaginable is about to become reality.

No amount of thanks will be enough from Barcelona and their supporters, Messi has given the club so much and they have been privileged to witness his genius for so long week in, week out. He is the one who subjugated the Bernabeu, invaded Rome, Wembley and Berlin on route to Champions League titles. He has brought people from all over the world to the city to see him take to the field at the Camp Nou. To try and pinpoint one moment or one goal from his career at the Camp Nou is impossible without him Barcelona would and will be a shadow of what we have come to recognise them as.

I will continue to support Barcelona and I still love Lionel Messi but watching them play without one another will break my heart. My whole world is changing and I don’t like where it is going but I am powerless. I can only try and get through the heartache I am experiencing. Messi will forever be Barcelona in my mind but Barcelona without Messi is something I still cannot fully comprehend.

Thank you for all the memories Leo, I will never be able to express in words how much you mean to me or just how much joy you have brought to me. I will still watch you but my heart will ache at the fact it will no longer be in the maroon and blue of Barca.

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