No individual is bigger than the club, goes the sporting truism. A rare exception could be made for Lionel Messi and Barcelona. And that is why speculation about Messi’s possible multi-million dollar switch — not a rare occurrence in football — is being discussed beyond the sports pages. The Argentine forward commands a stature as large as the club. With him at the helm, Barcelona built on their image as the romantics’ destination to a trophy-guzzling mean machine. Nearly half of the 112-year-old club’s titles were won in 16 Messi years. Brand Barcelona was Brand Messi.
Barcelona was one of Europe’s elites even before Messi took baby steps in the game. But in terms of monetary power, it was not even among the top 10. Now, as per the evaluation of Deloitte’s Football Money League 2020, it’s the richest in the world with a revenue of $959.3 million between 2018 and 2019. For the first time in their storied rivalry with Real Madrid, they defeated them on the financial front too. A lot of it owed to Messi’s aura. Barcelona had long resisted the temptation to sell its team shirt the way other clubs teams around the world had done, but it’s no coincidence that it changed its policies during Messi’s time.
Messi, wherever he goes, will carry a whole industry along with him. He could not only elevate the quality of the club and league, but make it considerably richer too. He might be a month past his 33rd birthday, but there are no signs that his forces are diminishing. He could bring to the club as much as, if not more than, the club invests in him. An exception to the well-worn sporting truism could be made in the exceptional case of Messi.