WEDNESDAY'S BIG STORIES
Barcelona are a rampant mess
Barcelona drew 3-3 with Levante on Tuesday night in what should represent a fatal blow to their title challenge. It leaves them a point off Atletico having played a game more. Such has been the inconsistency of both Real and Atletico Madrid this season, they may still win Liga, though. However, even if they do, they remain a mess of a club. Were they not blessed with Lionel Messi, it does not bear thinking how desperate the situation would be. The Argentine maestro has dragged a ramshackle squad to within contention of a title.
Ronaldo returns to top of football's rich list ahead of Messi
The club have, despite their successes, wasted the finest talent in the history of the game. They remain without direction, and that lack of direction was best summed up by coach Ronald Koeman's post-match remarks.
"In the second half we lacked intensity and I don't know what I did wrong at the half-time period as we were superior in the first half," said Koeman.
They surprised us by scoring three goals and I have no explanation - I don't know why it happened. In terms of intensity, we dropped and got over-relaxed. The whole team defensively was not at the level required. Conceding three goals in 45 minutes is too many for this team.
Messi set Barcelona on course for victory against Levante, scoring the first and having a hand in the second. It was incumbent on Koeman to protect that course; the fact he didn't was a microcosm of the club's failures these last few years.
Yet, incredibly, Barca, it seems, have another shot at getting things right, as it appears Messi is edging towards staying. Another shot at utilising the best player to ever do it as a platform to set the club on course for further success. Having Messi gives them a competitive advantage over their peers. They have not used said advantage. However, should Messi sign a new contract, the club must shape a squad for the short, medium and long term. Their health as a club is contingent on building around Messi rather than relying on him to mask incompetence at boardroom level. Barcelona must - after years of failure - get their recruitment right otherwise the ramifications will be far-reaching.
However, should Messi elect to leave this summer, it is not hyperbole to say that it could set the club back for a generation. This is a collection of talented but aging players put together badly. Messi's brilliance holds it together. Without him, Barca would be cut adrift from the elite of the game. Should he leave this summer, it is a long, long way back for the club. The decisions taken in the next few weeks will define the club for a generation.
Manchester City have won the Premier League
Manchester City are a real problem for football. Never before has there been a club with such money that is so well-run. Their excellence has been detailed in last Wednesday's Warm-Up and by Graham Ruthven also.
City have won five of the last 10 titles and three of the last four. It is impressive, but also worrying. Where will the dominance of such a well-run club with access to bottomless finance end? Sport ultimately is about competition, and City are gnawing away at that.
Footballers are not superhuman
Adriano, at his best, was a footballer without peer. He was considered Ronaldo's - the real one, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima's - successor. Yet, he finished his career with *only* 177 goals in 405 games.
His story has often been represented as one of wasted talent. That was never the case. The 39-year-old has, in the Players' Tribune, spoken, to quote the man himself, the "truth." And that truth is harrowing, but also inspiring. It tells of the physical and mental struggles he has endured, and emerged from.
It was 2004 and a matter of days after he had led Brazil to Copa America glory against Argentina that his father died of a heart attack. The death irrevocably changed Adriano's relationship with football: "My love for football was never the same. He loved the game, so I loved the game. It was that simple. It was my destiny. When I played football, I played for my family. When I scored, I scored for my family. So when my father died, football was never the same."
Yet, he played on. All the way through to 2016. But, in truth, his career at an elite level ended in 2011 while playing for Corinthians after an Achilles injury. The injury, Adriano says, left him with a hole in his ankle. It was an injury that he was offered extensive rehabilitation for. Yet, the death of his father, which left a hole "in my soul", he was largely left to address himself.
Football, with some notable exceptions, failed him. He was left to deal with that trauma on his own. He dealt with it in his own way. His success can't be measured by goals or trophies. His success is his story, and his story while inspiring is a reminder - this week but also every week - that footballers are human and we should all remember that during our interactions with them.
IN THE CHANNELS
AFC Wimbledon are to release 25-year season tickets. 500 of them to pay off a bridging loan that was secured to finish off Plough Lane.
How much? "25 x the full adult season ticket price for your seat, less a 5% discount if you are a debenture holder," says the club's official website.
Football, as evidenced by the aborted money grab that was the European Super League, is and remains in a state of financial disarray. Clubs are bloated. Many need an overhaul. Alas, it will not be that easy.
Oliver Kay, of the Athletic, details the situation in depth – it sounds like it will be a tumultuous summer.
Of course, there will be big deals at the top end of the market but the idea of clearing the decks, raising fortunes by selling unwanted players and easing the burden on the wage bill? It would be an understatement to suggest this will be easier said than done.
There are four live minute-by-minute blogs on site today, they are: Sevilla v Valencia, Sassuolo v Juventus, Chelsea v Arsenal and Atletico Madrid v Real Sociedad.
Andi Thomas will be here on the morrow to detail that latest stumble in the Liga title race.
'I don't know what will happen!' - Laporta asks Barca fans to keep supporting team
Messi to miss Metz game due to a knock to his left knee