Lionel Messi is leaving Camp Nou after 17 years in a shock move no-one saw coming.
It had been announced and agreed that Messi would be playing in Barcelona until 2026, but through no fault of his own he has been prevented from signing a new contract due to La Liga financial rules and regulations, leaving the Barca board no choice but to release him.
Messi had arrived accompanied by his father to sign his new contract only to be told it would be impossible.
There had been some talk and rumour specifically over the last few transfer windows about the possibility of Messi’s departure and whether he wanted to leave, but he made clear that Barcelona was his home and that he wanted to remain with the Catalans.
Yet on 8 August he was forced to deliver a heart-wrenching, tear-filled departure press conference to say that even with his offer to cut his own salary by 50 per cent it still wasn’t possible to reach a deal with the club.
Before we get into his out-of-this-planet stats, it’s important to say that he is the greatest and most talented footballer in history. I am open to debate, but anyone who knows football should agree that Leo Messi is mesmerising to watch for his incredible natural gifts – so much so I don’t even consider Cristiano Ronaldo to be on the level below but rather two or three rungs down.
Leo provided 672 goals and 305 assists in his 778 games. He lifted 35 club trophies inclusive of ten La Liga crowns, four Champions League titles, seven Copa del Rey honours and eight Spanish Super Cups after making his senior debut in October 2004 aged 17 years. He is the only player in history to score more than ten goals in 15 different La Liga campaigns.
Since the 2008-09 season Messi scored more than 30 goals in every campaign to now. In 2011-12 he scored 50 goals in the La Liga and 91 in the calender year. To put that in perspective, since 2000 Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo have the highest goals in the Premier League in a single season at 31.
Here is a quick list of La Liga records Messi holds.
In the Champions League Messi is second in goals and assists behind Ronaldo, who is on 135 goals and 42 assists. Messi is on 120 goals and 36 assists.
Stats aside, the impact of the departure of a captain leaving his boyhood club after 17 years is immeasurable. His impact on the field and ability to turn any game around is irreplaceable. Ask most players and managers in the football world today and they will tell you Messi is the greatest of all time. Those who say Ronaldo is better tend to be Madrid, Manchester United or Portugal fans. Roast me for saying that if you like, but do yourself a favour and watch a Messi tribute on YouTube.
One thing that I have loved seeing developed in his game is his positioning at false No. 9 and his ability to drop deep to create opportunities if nothing is happening up top. These days you can catch Leo passing the ball with Gerard Pique down back thanks to Pep Guardiola, who introduced the world to this most dangerous form of Leo.
No player is bigger than a club, but this week is the closest that statement has ever been to false.