Finding the Biggest Winners if Lionel Messi Really Does Leave Barcelona

Lionel Messi
A smattering of people might be happy to see the back of Messi | Pool/Getty Images

It really, really looks like Lionel Messi is actually leaving Barcelona. The paragon of one club mannishness, the man who's embodied the club's stated ideals more than anyone since Johan Cruyff, the club's top scorer of all time (by about 400 goals), is leaving. And not happily.

The Argentine sent the club a letter (not a fax, a 'burofax' is a service not unlike a piece of post being sent by recorded delivery – so that legally there's no way to have received it and to later pretend that you didn't) informing them of his intention to activate a clause in his contract and leave for free.

That probably won't happen – expect to see a diminished fee agreed with any club he agrees a contract with, in order to avoid a protracted and messy legal battle over whether the clause is enforceable at this time – but it's hard to see any scenario in which this is rowed back. The petrol's been soaking into the supports for some time now, and the bridges are burning too fast and too bright.

A lot of people aren't very happy about this, but there are a couple of people out there who might be hiding grins under their face coverings this week. But who on earth could those people be? Well...

1. Antoine Griezmann

Antoine Griezmann
The €100m man himself | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

The obvious one first, eh? Antoine Griezmann was the third or fourth best player in the world in his last couple of seasons at Atletico Madrid, won the World Cup, got his move to Barcelona and...then Ernesto Valverde and Quique Setien went 'ermm, we know you like to play in the space behind the striker, but so does Lionel Messi. And he's better than you. Because he's Lionel Messi.'

The result was his first season without ten La Liga goals since 2011/12 (seriously, he's really good) and a hundred Catalan radio pundits calling him a bad purchase.

Without Messi in that space, though? With a functionally better team than he had at Atleti, in which he's the main man once again? The sky's the limit.

Winning Status: Currently packing Messi's dog's suitcase to get him to the airport faster

2. Josep Maria Bartomeu

Josep Maria Bartomeu isn't the most popular man in Barcelona right now | JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images


The thing about Bartomeu is that he was probably going to go down in history as Barcelona's worst ever president before Messi's burofax arrived. In terms of legacy, it's not like he could've got much worse.

With just a handful of months left in his term, the club need to find something like €300m to be even remotely ship-shape when the elections are held in the spring. Know what helps with that? Losing about €200m of Messi's wages off the bill, plus a potential fee of anything in the €50m-100m in the bargain.

Nothing that Bartomeu can do between now and the end of his association with the club can redeem him, but Messi leaving could help remove a financial millstone from his neck.

Winning Status: The equivalent of getting a nice quick beheading rather than being hung, drawn and quartered

3. Real Madrid

Real Madrid CF v Club Atletico de Madrid  - La Liga
Is there some sort of rivalry here, or something? | Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Remember when Cristiano Ronaldo left the Bernabeu two summers ago, then Los Blancos got knocked out in the last 16 of the Champions League? And they didn't make the Copa del Rey final? And they finished behind Barça and Atleti in the league?

Well, now it's 2020, they're the reigning Spanish champions, they're no longer the only team who have lost their talisman before they expected to, and they don't have to play against Lionel Actual Messi at least twice a year. That's good.

Winning Status: Things are tighter than the jeans Zinedine Zidane wore for his unveiling

4. Valencia

Valencia CF v Real Betis Balompie  - La Liga
At least Gary Neville isn't still here | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Hey, did you notice that Valencia are absolutely self-destructing right now? No? No. They are though.

They're flat broke, the relationship between the fans and the ownership is pretty broken, the dressing room's fractured...and they've sold their three best players. And Francis Coquelin. They've got a combined €73m from those sales, which...doesn't look like it's being reinvested in the squad. They don't have European football next season.

But it's okay. Because Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona, so they can do this in peace.

Winning Status: De-fault! De-fault! De-fault!

5. FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona v CA Osasuna  - La Liga
Dark clouds, eh? How foreboding | David Ramos/Getty Images

This is about as far from a sure thing as you could get, but make absolutely no mistake – there are some prominent people inside Barcelona who see this as an opportunity. Getting rid of Messi when the time came was going to be a gargantuan task, and now they don't have to think about it.

A club in a financial crisis can make money off a sale and get the best part of €100m a year off the wage bill. They can actually regenerate, rather than just rearrange the army of very expensive pawns shuffling up the board in service of their queen.

The line is 'more than a club' but in truth, Barça have been less than a football club for a few years now. They've been the Lionel Messi Placation Project. That's not a bad thing; keeping the best player in the world happy and in your team is very, very rarely a mistake. But...he's 33. The club are in a crisis driven by his wages, and the buoying effect they have on what the rest of the squad make. They're coming off the back of their worst season in a decade.

The circumstances are bad. But from a purely 'football project' point of view, this could be the most bitter of blessings. It could unlock Griezmann. It could mean that the reliance on one man, which has made their attacking play increasingly one-dimensional since Neymar left, is no more.

Or it could all go horribly, mind-bendingly wrong. Toss a coin.

Winning Status: Getting 20p off a scratchcard. After you've spent €900m on scratchcards.

For more from Chris Deeley, follow him on Twitter at @ThatChris1209!