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Published on November 29th, 2017 | by Peter Coates

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Why Leo Messi doesn’t need to leave Barca to be a great of the game

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Leo Messi signed a deal with Barcelona that all but keeps him at the club for life, but for some it was a chance missed to prove himself elsewhere 

We may never know just how close Lionel Messi came to leaving Barcelona but with only a matter of weeks before Barcelona’s greatest ever player was free to talk to clubs regarding a possible summer transfer, pen was put to paper on a new deal tying Messi to the club until 2021.

After all the back and forth Barcelona announced that Messi had signed his ninth professional contract with the club this week and with the buyout clause increased from €300 million to  €700 million, the record goal-scorer appears to be going nowhere until he is at least 34 years of age.

Imagining Messi playing anywhere in Europe other than for Barcelona is almost unthinkable but for his critics, the latest extension is a missed opportunity to truly prove his greatness.

Messi never thought about leaving, or so he says, but the truth after a difficult year on the pitch, a court case off it and Barcelona appearing to be in decline under the poor leadership of the current board, Argentina’s captain must have entertained the idea.

Suitors wouldn’t have been hard to come by for a player that has sat at the peak of the game for more than a decade.

Barcelona’s board kept announcing it was all agreed but no official confirmation came. Supporters grew increasingly concerned but after an excellent start to the season under new manager Ernesto Valverde, Andres Iniesta signing a new contract, the club investing in the likes of Ousmane Dembele and his own reported €43 million-per-season settled, the deal was done.

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Paris Saint-Germain triggering Neymar’s transfer prompted Messi’s presumably water-tight €700 million release clause but were the Argentinian superstar to follow the Brazilians example and try his luck elsewhere would it really add to his legacy?

PSG, Manchester City, Chelsea – there are only a handful of clubs that could afford a player like Messi and with that in mind it is difficult to know what is more ridiculous: that Messi wouldn’t be able to perform in one of those already excellent sides or that winning a Ligue 1 or Premier League title would suddenly elevate Messi’s claim to be the greatest.

Agent to the stars Mino Raiola voiced this opinion to MARCA: “A player like Messi must try another experience with a different club and prove how great he is.”

Eight La Liga titles, five Copa del Reys, four Champions Leagues, three Club World Cups and five Ballon d’Ors among Messi’s 30 Barça honours. The records keep tumbling and if the critics aren’t yet convinced then no transfer was or is going to help that.

Messi’s prodigious talent led him to Barcelona as a boy but graduating to the first team and maintaining such a level of brilliance since making his debut in 2004, while so many great players have come and gone at the Camp Nou, is surely more evidence of his greatness than a move to another of Europe’s superpowers.

The absence of an international trophy with Argentina will always be used to criticize Messi unless La Albiceleste prove the doubters wrong and lift the trophy in Russia (or maybe in Qatar at a push) but that will remain regardless of whichever club side he plays for.

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Comparing across eras is not a science and is a matter of debate but Maradona lifting the World Cup in Mexico seems a fine margin to condemn Messi by, while comparisons with Pele staying in Brazil for the vast majority of his career are simply wide of the mark.

Pele does have the criticism that a lot of his goals were scored at a lower level but the same cannot be said of Messi. Regardless of whether Barcelona have always had world class players around Messi, the one constant in any of the sides for over ten years has been the otherworldly talents of the little number ten.

Lifting the World Cup next summer, adding a few more medals to his Barcelona trophy cabinet before returning for a swan-song at Newell’s in his mid-to-late thirties would be an ideal way to end any debate but even if that doesn’t happen, there should be no doubting Lionel Messi.

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About the Author

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Peter is a British football writer living in Buenos Aires, who specialises on Argentine football. His passion for the game in South America took him to Argentina in 2011 and aside from starting his own site 'Golazo Argentino', he has covered the national side for The Independent and acts as WhoScored's expert on the Primera División.



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