One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a soccer club is for one of its players to become greater than the team itself, which is something that’s at a risk of happening for Barcelona with Lionel Messi.
No one is saying that Messi is pushing to make things happen, but it’s hard to ignore the connection between himself, his family, and the newly appointed manager Gerardo Martino.
Barcelona haven’t always promoted from within – that’s just been the case with their last two managers. Frank Rijkaard came in 2003 after a short tenure with the Dutch national team and with Sparta Rotterdam. He finished second twice, added two league titles and the Champions League trophy in five seasons with the club, helping bring up Lionel Messi into recognition and the beginning of putting Barcelona at the focus of global soccer once again.
So Luis Enrique, friends and former teammate with Xavi and Carles Puyol, wasn’t an automatic choice, or even the first one. Yes, he took over Barcelona B from Pep Guardiola in 2008, but his season in Roma didn’t really help his reputation, and he was already under contract at Celta, only appointed to the job last month.
Martino? Some say Rosell has been putting his eye on him for a very long time, but the plan was to appoint him further down the line, after Vilanova’s time with the club had run out, instead of abruptly ending due to his battle with cancer.
Martino has achieved quite a lot in South American football – a league title (Torneo Final) with Newell’s last season and reaching the Copa Libertadores semifinal, and before that plenty of success with Libertad in Paraguay. He also did quite well with the national team, reaching the 2010 World Cup quarterfinal and making life a living hell for the Spanish side that knocked him out, and also led Paraguay to the Copa America final in 2011.
But then there’s Messi and his influence. Martino comes from Rosario, Messi’s city, and played & coached at Newell’s, Messi’s boyhood club before he was whisked away to Barcelona, who could afford the treatments he needed as a child, and eventually changed the course of history of Spanish football and the Champions League. Messi’s father is a close friend of Martino, that’s something that is impossible to ignore.
We won’t know for now what kind of power struggles went on from behind the scenes about the next appointment. Maybe Puyol and others never really tried to push for Enrqiue to take the job, but it’s hard to believe they didn’t try anything at all. The club chose Messi, once again. Like it seemed to have done with David Villa, who mysteriously stopped getting any playing time after his fight with Messi on the pitch. The Spanish striker had to wait for almost an entire season to pass, and for garbage time to kick in, in order to feel a consistent member of the lineup once again.
You go with the present and the future, and Messi is it, as long as he’s happy. Barcelona just need to be careful that this cult of personality doesn’t go a bit too far.