Why La Remontada was the worst thing that could have happened to Barca
The unthinkable has finally happened and Lionel Messi has left Barcelona after more than 20 years at the club, joining Paris Saint-Germain on a two-year deal.
It is a move that has been years in the making and can be charted back, ironically, to one of Barcelona's greatest evenings - when they overturned a 4-0 first-leg deficit to beat PSG 6-1 in the return match of a Champions League last-16 encounter.
La Remontada has gone down in history as one of the great all-time displays, not just from Barca, but any side ever in the history of the game.
But even back in the spring of 2017, the Catalans were failing, and this remarkable comeback merely delayed the inevitable. It should not be forgotten that in the following round they were swept aside 3-0 over two legs by Juventus.
Indeed, that unforgettable night in March was the final death throes of Barca as a European giant, sparking a war with PSG that the French side first won with their financial might, then claimed on the field.
Now, they have taken to plucking the Catalans' biggest talents away from them.
The beginning of the end
Five months after their famous victory, Neymar was wrestled away from Barca with PSG improbably meeting the Brazilian’s €222 million buy-out clause to stun the footballing world and begin an entirely new era in the transfer market.
Had the Brazilian not inspired the 6-1 win, upstaging even Lionel Messi with his brilliance on the night, it is doubtful that PSG would ever have felt the need to make such an enormous deal.
It was at that juncture that Barcelona’s management crumbled. Instead of spending the Neymar millions judiciously, president Josip Maria Bartomeu and his colleagues panicked. Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho had soon arrived for a combined cost that was significantly greater than the money they had received for Neymar.
Indeed, it is a remarkable fact that Barcelona actually lost more than €140 million in the transfer market during that 2017-18 season, despite the Neymar money.
Furthermore, in November, worried that PSG might be back to poach Messi, they offered the superstar a contract that was worth upwards of €100m per year. Of course, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner accepted, becoming the highest-earning footballer on the planet by a sizeable margin.
Barcelona were transfixed on replacing Neymar to such an extent that all rationality was lost. Dembele and Coutinho flopped, the club’s fortunes worsened along with their financial position, and yet the spending continued.
Antoine Griezmann’s €120m arrival from Atletico Madrid was the last big gamble, but it too failed, with the World Cup winner unable to integrate with Messi in such a way that he could continue his fine form from the capital.
The Covid-19 crisis has, of course, accelerated Barcelona’s downturn but has equally allowed PSG to thrust the dagger in. They have done so gleefully, given the tension between the clubs that has built since the Neymar saga.
Kylian Mbappe dismantled Barca in the last-16 of the 2019/20 Champions League, scoring four times to Messi’s two, and now the crown jewel in the Catalans’ crown – a veteran of more than 20 years at the club – is set to depart for Paris.
When Sergi Roberto poked home in stoppage-time on that fateful night in March 2017, the Barcelona star could scarcely have imagined the ramifications, with PSG now set to exact their full revenge by stealing Messi away.