La Casa Tomada (House Taken Over), Argentine author Julio Cortazar’s seminal short story, tells the tale of two siblings, the sole remaining scions of a once great aristocratic family, that inhabit a proud yet ramshackle mansion, living only to clean and maintain the dwelling until, one day, the presence of faint murmurs and noises signals that part of it has been occupied by unknown invaders.
The brother and sister gradually retreat further and further into their home as more rooms become occupied, until finally, confined to the hallway, they are forced to leave altogether, throwing the key into the sewer as they close the door behind them, never meeting their presumed aggressors nor discovering the motives for this mysterious invasion.
Like the narrator and his sister, Irene, Lionel Messi has never wavered in his love for his Barcelona home; but after 20 years, the world’s best player has decided that the whispers and murmurs emanating from Camp Nou are just too strong to ignore, leading to him dropping a bombshell on the club that resonated first and foremost in his native Argentina.
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The choice of Buenos Aires broadcaster TyC Sports as the channel through which Messi effectively confirmed his wish to leave is no accident. Over the years, the network has enjoyed a privileged position as one of the few to whom Leo has been willing to speak candidly, to the immense frustration of its Spanish counterparts.
It was TyC journalist Martin Arevalo who received the news minutes after the 2016 Copa America final that Messi was retiring from international football, a decision the forward later went back on, while he has also fed the channel with numerous exclusive interviews showing him more relaxed and natural than ever before off the pitch, where he often comes across as stilted and awkward.
While Barca will logically fight the decision and aim to interpret what is admittedly an unclear contract situation in their favour, the club cannot claim that such a move has come out of the blue. In 2020 alone, Messi has given several signs that his patience was wearing thin.
There was Ernesto Valverde’s sacking in January, and the subsequent public comments from Eric Abidal that the dressing room was not working hard enough.
The revelations that president Josep Bartomeu had allegedly hired outside social media companies to attack his own players.
This month’s humiliating 8-2 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich.
An unsatisfactory chat with new coach Ronald Koeman in which he was reportedly told that his “privileges were over”, met with the confession the player was “more outside than inside” Camp Nou.
Then, perhaps the final straw, the unceremonious dumping of Luis Suarez, not just a close friend of the Argentine but also a fine player who may be past his peak but nevertheless deserved a more dignified send-off – both Suarez and fellow discard Arturo Vidal were quick in showing their support once the news broke on Tuesday.
No player, it is true, should be bigger than the team; but the cavalier manner in which Barca have treated their most valuable asset makes it hard to sympathise as they scramble to control damages in the wake of this latest body blow.
“Despite his wish, more fantasy than reality, of wearing the Newell’s shirt, Messi imagined his coming years in Barcelona, but he has been left with no choice but to step aside,” TyC’s Martin Souto, one of the few journalists to enjoy a warm relationship with the player, wrote on Tuesday after breaking the news that soon circumnavigated the globe.
“The No.10 grew tired of battling against the tide and with a mix of anger and pain made the decision he had never imagined…
“Will Barcelona’s board have the moral fortitude to understand the situation and thank their idol or will it take the legal battle all the way? It would be just one more embarrassment.”
— Luis Suarez (@LuisSuarez9) August 25, 2020
Thanks in large part to the influence of their star, whose first contract was signed on the back of a napkin 20 years ago having left Rosario for Catalunya on the promise of continuing his expensive yet vital growth hormone treatments, Barca hold a privileged standing in Argentina and South America as a whole.
No kick-around or children’s birthday party in Buenos Aires is complete without at least one Messi 10 shirt darting around the pitch, while thousands tune in to every Barca game, no matter how insignificant, for the chance to see him weave more of his magic.
That spell now threatens to shatter.
Messi would continue to shine for another club, of course, perhaps in Manchester City’s sky-blue, the navy and red of Paris Saint-Germain, or maybe even the red and black of his beloved Newell’s Old Boys, though that seems more like wishful thinking at this juncture.
Third-tier Sacachispas claim to have opened talks with Messi but are even more unlikely to be in the running, even if the Buenos Aires club promised to enlist the aid of Economy minister Martin Guzman in obtaining a loan large enough to entice the star to Villa Soldati.
Ante tantas consultas, queremos aclarar que ya iniciamos las tratativas con Bartomeu para que nos reduzca la clausula de rescisión de Lio y también con el Ministro @Martin_M_Guzman para que nos facilite un crédito blando para poder pagarla ????????.
— Sacachispas (@SacachispasOK) August 25, 2020
Leo will continue to receive a hero’s welcome every time he returns home to represent Argentina, with the hope that a change of scenery at club level will push him on to even greater things with the Albiceleste; no matter what his next destination is, his idol status is unbreakable.
Barca, meanwhile, face being left in the shadows, adding the absence of their greatest-ever player to the general chaos and gloom that engulfed Camp Nou long before the now-infamous fax was sent or indeed before Bayern ran riot in Lisbon.
“We would die there one day and lazy, unknown cousins would get the house and knock it down to get rich of the land and bricks; or perhaps we would justifiably tear it down before it was too late,” Cortazar’s narrator reflects in the story.
While there is still plenty of times for more twists and turns in Messi’s own saga, it appears that he has decided to take his fate into his own hands, breaking out of the golden cage Camp Nou had steadily become before the edifice came down on top of him.
There may yet be further opportunity to see Messi maraud in the Barca shirt, with Bartomeu’s reaction to the news now crucial in the coming days.
But one thing is clear: no longer content to prop up the team amid decay and incompetence, Leo is taking his future into his own hands – the rest is up to the Blaugrana.
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