Will Messi go down as the last one-club man?
Lionel Messi’s story is straight out of a comic book. Small, frail and weak as a child, a powerful benefactor unexpectedly offered him a treatment that would transform him into the greatest footballer on the planet. Even when you acknowledge that tiny boy Messi had ridiculous skills before Barcelona came along, it’s Captain America in real life.
The difference, of course, is that there is only one Messi while there have been three or four Caps. Like Steve Rogers, however, the Argentine remains loyal to his benefactor. Barca gave and continue to give Leo almost everything he could ever want. He’ll never have to look for another club to pay him the wage he desires and, if you believe the rumours, he is consulted about every major transfer. He has more wealth and power than any other footballer save perhaps his nemesis, the Red Skull. Sorry, I meant Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Portuguese didn’t have everything handed to him at a young age like Messi did. He had to prove himself, first at Sporting, then Manchester United. When he left Real Madrid, there was nothing left to prove, just new challenges to take on.
For all that was given to him, Messi arguably hasn’t enjoyed the same level of success even though he has 10 league titles to his name compared to Ronaldo’s six. Each surpassed the 600-goal plateau this past season. Both have won five Ballons d’Or and the consensus is the Barcelona No.10 will collect a sixth this year. But Ronaldo has two international trophies to his name, the 2016 European Championship and this year’s Nations League, and edges his rival in Champions Leagues 5-4. What’s more, as the Blaugrana continue to haemorrhage three-goal leads in the knockout stages, most of the neutral world believes CR7 is more likely to widen the gap than the Maestro is to close it.
Before all the Messi fanboys flood the comments section with stats and arguments about who is the greatest of this generation or all time, I said arguably. Try to understand that isn’t the point behind the comparison. It’s there to demonstrate Barcelona hasn’t been able to give everything to their star. Obviously, the international accolades aren’t within the club’s reach. That elusive fifth Champions League crown is but it keeps slipping through their fingers. Yet, still he stays.
Other players might decide to look elsewhere. For different reasons that the Brazilian has apparently come to regret, Neymar did. Last year, Gigi Buffon left Juventus for Paris Saint-Germain, too, hoping to claim just one Champions League winners medal after more than a decade of futility with Juventus. The Old Lady was much happier to let him leave and welcome him back than Barcelona have been with Neymar but it's otherwise the same tale.
Lesser stars display even baser standards for compromising their loyalty. Andres Iniesta simply wanted to keep playing after Barca had no use for him. The same applies to Daniele de Rossi. The Roma legend booked passage to Buenos Aires this week to sign with Argentine giants Boca Juniors.
Why Lyon captain Nabil Fekir left the French club the other day is shrouded in mystery. If there was another world-class candidate destined to be a one-club man, it seemed to be Les Gones’ heart and soul. Certainly, he didn’t say farewell for money, prestige or glory. Not every door was open to him but bigger clubs than Real Betis were prepared to offer him more of each. The Frenchman had his reasons, however, and they should be respected.
Similarly, Messi has his reasons for staying with Barcelona. Unlike Captain America, who was assassinated, brought back to life, made into a minion of Hydra and put through countless other changes at the whim of writers, the Argentine can script his own future.
He and Ronaldo remain the only footballers of our generation who can. Each has money, fame, awards, even family. Anything and everything they desire in life. There is no chasing for either other than those pursuits which they themselves choose. Messi prefers to let it all come to him. Ronaldo enjoys a more nomadic life. But, while superstars as yet unrevealed will follow Ronaldo’s path, there may not be another who maintains his allegiance to a single club for his entire career. One year on from the last time I touched upon this, Lionel Messi’s legacy continues to reveal him as the last one-club man.