Barcelona’s 4-2 victory over Real Sociedad ushered in an era that had previously been inconceivable, but the first game of the post-Lionel Messi era is going to be more bitter than sweet for fans of Barcelona and fans of football alike.
It’s going to be difficult for Barcelona to replace the on-field magic of Messi, arguably the greatest footballer of all time. In Messi’s time at Barcelona he contributed to 672 goals and 288 assists, all of which were critical contributions to the 31 honours he brought to Catalonia.
Off the pitch Messi was a symbol of the authenticity at which Barcelona used to run their club, a symbol of a club that prides itself on mixing state with academy graduates. For every Laszlo Kubala and Ronaldinho there is a Carles Puyol or Víctor Valdes. Messi was a marriage of both.
He signalled a shift away from the dominance of Real Madrid’s galacticos and restored beauty, pride and success to Barcelona. He made domestic and European success come so easy to Barcelona that players, fans and administrators almost took it for granted. But he is gone now, with him the divine right of glory that he brings. And as Barcelona come to this realisation and lick the wounds created by the Argentine’s departure, the new era at the club begins.
The sweetness of this new era is that it allows for a correction to the old ways of Barcelona. The La Masia days. Despite the abundance of talent stored in the legs of Antoine Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, one would think that the three of these players, in particular the latter two, would be shipped to help backfill the financial hole the Catalan club currently finds themselves in. Ansu Fati, still barely old enough to drive, is another name that springs to mind when thinking of the long-term replacement for Messi.
But no other player embodies what Messi stood for quite like Pedro Gonzalez Lopez. Like Fati he is just a boy in life. However, in football he is a man, and his 73 games this season concur with this.
Pedri was a lynchpin for Barcelona, Spain at the Euros and Spain’s under-23 side at the Olympics. His talent and skill set are unrivalled in football, let alone Barcelona. He’s strikingly similar to Messi is his attitude to the game. Free-flowing, progressive and exciting are just some of the superlatives one can use to describe Pedri at full flight.
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Fans can see this. Most importantly, Messi can see this too. At times last season it appeared as though Messi and Pedri were on the same wavelength, different to the other Barcelona players. Pedri often found himself gravitating around Messi’s atmosphere, instigating Barcelona’s attacks and reminding fans of the Barcelona of old, where Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta had a supernatural understanding of each other’s movements.
Messi and Pedri hinted at that. They were the Catalan equivalent to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. But now Messi is off, solving the mystery of Parisian continental success, and Pedri is left to carry the burden left by his departure.
Playing 90 minutes against Sociedad at the weekend highlighted Pedri’s unwavering commitment to club and country – as do his 73 games for club and country last season, his most recent being the Olympic final eight days ago.
Pedri’s dedication to Barcelona and to Spain as well as his supreme talent indicate that he will be Barcelona’s shaman to success. Sure, he won’t shelve the burden on his own – Barcelona are still a club populated with talented footballers – but they always have been. Messi had one of football’s most talented sides at his disposal, but he was the lynchpin.
Pedri isn’t Messi, and he never will be, but he doesn’t have to be. He doesn’t need to score 90 goals in a calendar year. He doesn’t need to beat eight players to score. He doesn’t need magic. He just needs to be himself. He needs to negotiate his way through space, slicing opposition defences up with incisive passing, and become the creative enigma that his side can galvanise behind.
He may not guide them to success this season or next. But as long as the keys remain in his hand, Barcelona fans can have hope that in due time the little midfielder from Tegueste can reignite the flame in Catalonia that was extinguished by previous administrations.
Barcelona – always eager to compete with bitter rivals Real Madrid – found a way to steal the award for worst performance of the round as the Champions League’s second set of matches delivered more shocks and broken records.
Lionel Messi’s transfer to Paris Saint-Germain, forming a forward line with other double AA-listers Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, is a dream team scenario. I will take a walk back through other dream three-man forward lines over the years.