By Basheer Luqman Olarewaju
Winston Churchill once said: “This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
In March 2017, Barcelona achieved one of the most remarkable comebacks in Champions League history as three goals in the final seven minutes secured a sensational 6-5 aggregate victory over Paris St-Germain.
The chief inspiration on that historic night, without any doubt, was Neymar, who capped a brilliant performance by scoring the first two of those late goals before assisting Sergi Roberto’s winner with a perfectly placed chipped cross.
The following day, the high emotions of the unforgettable occasion were encapsulated by the publication of a dramatic image which quickly went viral: Lionel Messi in a Messiah-like pose, standing on the advertising boards to celebrate the victory as awestruck fans hailed his glory.
At that precise moment, Neymar decided enough was enough: he had just delivered the best performance of his career to inspire an amazing victory, and still everyone was talking about Messi.
That, at least, is an intriguing theory proposed by journalist Ramon Besa in Spanish newspaper El Pais, attempting to understand why Neymar is packing his bags from Barcelona for Paris.
Although Neymar and his entourage have not yet revealed their precise motives, the general belief was that he was no longer contented to play second fiddle to Messi.
[At the prime age of 25, with a potentially career-defining World Cup on the horizon, he has opted to join a club who will make him the centre of attention, both on and off the pitch. And in doing so, he has left Barca on the brink of a full-blown crisis].
Alas! At last, Barcelona have suffered the rare shock of losing their first and second most important players entirely against their will, and the club’s previously impregnable confidence has been shaken to the core.
Messi’s departure: nobody saw it coming
From Barcelona’s point of view, this summer was supposed to be about three things: extending Messi’s contract (finally unachieved), strengthening the attacking force (wonderfully, Depay was signed), and easing in new condition.
The prospect of Messi leaving was never considered as a real possibility, and even when the initial reports of Man City and PSG’s interest first surfaced they were dismissed as the usual silly season inconsequential rumours.
With the player himself remaining silent, it took a long time for anyone in Barcelona and the whole world to actually believe that Messi might go.
The uncertainty and confusion around his future was perhaps best illustrated by Serigo Aguero’s infamous “he convinced me to come” tweet – if even one of Messi’s most respected and influential team-mates (Countrywise) didn’t know what was going on, how on earth could anyone else?
On the flipside, despite it became clear that the Argentine really does not intend to leave, he has predictably become the target of much bitterness – on Monday, homemade signs denouncing him as a ‘traitor’ and ‘mercenary’ appeared on lampposts around the Nou Camp, and social media is full of similar smears from furious Barca fans.
Interestingly, the dressing room appears to have moved in a disimilar direction. A couple of days ago, Barca’s players were reported to be pleading with him to stay and expressing those sentiments in news conferences.
But the last few days, perhaps accepting the inevitable, have been met with a deafening silence amid widespread reports in the Spanish media that the leadership of the team cannot pay the huge amount required to keep Leo in the club. The only option he (Leo) opted for was to join his old teammate – Neymar – but over ambitious player who felt Messi dominance wouldn’t avail him the opportunity to win the most coveted individual award “Balon D’or”.
Remember, the much needed self-made recognition created lacuna between Neymar and Cavani while at PSG. The two fought severally on and off the pitch courtesy of his lackadaisical attitude. Unlike Messi, Cavani had to find another team that has no Neymaic character.
Now, at PSG, Neymar is the King while Messi (the assumed world King) is the Queen. I use the analogy of chess, “At PSG, Messi is the Queen but Neymar is the King, and in chess you are never interested in sacrificing your queen. If you sacrifice your queen for a knight or a bishop, it’s always a bad deal. And that’s what I am talking about here. Neymar has welcomed, yet, another beginning of the end in his stay at PSG as Messi Dominance continues till he retires.