LaLiga: How Barcelona are preparing for the "post-Messi" era
On 24th June, Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini celebrated his 32nd birthday. While the entire world was busy showering the Argentine with love, tributes and accolades, there was also a fear that emerged in the minds of football fans - especially the Barcelona fan base.
It is a known fact that one day Barcelona will not have Messi in their starting XI. And the mere thought of that throws the football world into melancholy.
Messi is Barcelona's superstar and has always been the solution to every question posed against the team. There is no need to explain why Messi is their greatest ever, but there sure is a lot to ponder regarding life after Messi.
We have already witnessed the damage inflicted on Real Madrid by Cristiano Ronaldo's departure in 2018. But unlike Los Blancos, the Barca board are trying to prepare themselves for the inevitable.
Contribution over the years
With 603 goals in 687 appearances, Messi has been at the heart of everything good done by Barcelona since his debut in 2004. However, we all know that Messi's contribution is not limited to just goals. He has transitioned into a play-making goalscorer.
By feeding jaw-dropping, defense-splitting passes and perfectly flighted long balls, Messi has managed to become Barca's top provider. Last season, Messi finished with 36 goals and 13 assists and played a crucial role in Barcelona lifting yet another league title.
With the club aiming to tie the Argentine to a f-year contract, the fans can expect Messi to run the show for a few more years.
Barcelona have been on a signing spree over the last two years, in search of more firepower and creativity. Having spent extravagantly on the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Malcom, the board's intentions are very clear: if Messi cannot be replaced by one player, then sign two or three players who can emulate the Argentine's abilities.
However, the Catalans would do well to note that the 28-year-old Griezmann and the 27-year-old Coutinho will be heading towards the closing stages of their careers by the time Messi retires, so it would be illogical to call them Messi's heirs.
Here is a look at the more likely successors to Messi:
1. Ousmane Dembele
With the right amount of flair and skill, Ousmane Dembele has always been touted for great things. However, his career so far at Barcelona has been hampered by injuries.
Dembele's raw talent will surely convert into success as he matures with time. For now though, he needs to improve his fitness and learn to display more discipline and reliability.
The French winger certainly has the skill to develop into Barcelona's main man in the future.
The 22-year-old who was snatched from right under Roma's noses hasn't had the best of starts to his career at Barcelona. Due to heavy competition for the wing position, Malcom has found it difficult to find opportunities to shine.
As of today, it looks like the Brazilian won't be a part of Barcelona's plans for too long. However, if he manages to win over the manager's trust and display the right attitude in his limited opportunities, that would surely help him grow into the good books of the fans.
It is too early to discuss his chances of succeeding Messi as the main man, but determination and consistency will surely get him closer.
In fact, it is too early to discuss the possibility of either Dembele or Malcom taking the mantle from Messi. But the current squad doesn't possess any other options to be taken into consideration.
The board needs to look at signing promising youngsters instead of big money signings, as the latter only fulfill short-term objectives.
Post-Messi life is going to sting no matter what the board does. Messi's absence is definitely going to hurt the fans emotionally, along with the team's morale. But there is a lot to look forward to before the inevitable occurs.
Messi will be trying his best to bring the coveted Champions League trophy back to the Camp Nou. With positive signings, better tactics and a more stable approach towards big games, that is very much possible.
For now, the board should aim to prepare a precise plan and work towards it while simultaneously enjoying the final years of Messi's magic.