Barcelona: Messi task for Koeman as star reports for duty
After a couple of days of faffing over his coronavirus test (early yesterday, no-one at Barcelona knew if he’d taken it or not), Lionel Messi reported at the club's Sant Joan Despí training ground to begin work under Ronald Koeman. The new boss is now tasked with managing a squad member who has made plain his unhappiness, and is hardly any old player. On his arrival at Barça, Koeman visited Messi at his home (that’s quite a show of deference) to tell him he saw him as the cornerstone of his side… only for the forward to say he felt he was likelier to leave than stay. Then, as you well know, Koeman told Messi's best mate Luis Suárez to find a new club, prompting the Argentine to send his burofax.
Messi is a world-class star with non-league advisers
All a bit of a mess. A football administrator with no stake in the issue whatsoever told me that it smacks of a sloppiness that belies Barça’s stature as a club, and that Messi is a world-class player with non-league advisers. That was clear in his problems with the tax man, and has again been made apparent by the crazy burofax strategy, which left Barça chief Josep Maria Bartomeu with little option but to respond by challenging Messi's attempt to end his contract; he had nothing to lose by doing so. It would have been better to put together a departure to Manchester City on reasonable terms. There was talk of 100m euros plus Gabriel Jesus, Eric García and Angeliño. That would have allowed Barça to begin a promising rebuild.
Messi's relationship with the fans may not be the same
Instead, we saw a frantic dash for the exit which, after an unpleasant week and a half for culés, was hastily abandoned and left us with the distinct feeling of having witnessed rather a waste of everyone’s time. The fans will forgive Messi, I imagine, just as Real Madrid’s supporters forgave Hugo Sánchez when he made a similar attempt to do one from the Bernabéu. However, I can’t help feeling that something in Messi's magical connection with the Camp Nou faithful will have been broken. Now comes the unforgiving slog of training day in, day out and playing game after game in a bid to lift the "beautiful trophy" that Messi and Barça so crave. It’s a routine that will put to the test Koeman's reputation as a coach with a firm hand.