MONDAY'S BIG STORIES

Well That Escalated Quickly

For a so-far one-club man, Lionel Messi has worn many shirts. Both sides of Manchester, and the rest of the Big Six. Juventus, both sides of Milan, and obviously Napoli. PSG since they went superclub. Real Madrid on very special occasions. And any number of smaller clubs, looking for a quick giggle. Thanks to the tabloids, thanks to the photoshoppers, thanks to your mates messing around in MS Paint, the world's best player has been seen everywhere.
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And it always, always looked weird. Even the most skilful edit looked fundamentally incorrect. Messi was Barcelona and Barcelona was Messi and the two were so mutually entangled that nothing could pull them apart. Even last summer's burofax felt somehow unreal: a temporary shiver, a misread, a malfunction.
Bet Barcelona wish they'd taken the money now. He wanted to leave and they persuaded him to stay and now he wants to stay and they can't keep him. Even now, we still don't entirely believe it. Even after Messi got up in front of the cameras and the microphones and broke down into tears. It seems impossible that "Lionel Messi (Barcelona)" has become impossible.
We had everything agreed but, at the last minute, it couldn’t happen. I’ve heard lots of things being said about me, this year I wanted to stay and I couldn’t. Last year I didn’t want to stay, and I said it. This year I wanted to stay. I did everything possible but the club couldn’t do it because of La Liga."
Things happen quickly and strangely, but they also happen slowly and with terrible inevitability. Watching Barcelona — the team — over the last decade or so has been sometimes wonderful, sometimes exasperating. Watching Barcelona — the club — has been frankly bizarre. A carousel of inadequate coaches, expensive and ill-conceived transfers, short-term fixes, problems deferred and so compounded. The wrong players leaving, the wrong ones arriving.

Messi fans in Barcelona

Image credit: Getty Images

And Messi always there, putting up the numbers. Putting the function in dysfunctional. Putting the cherry on a cake that turns out, under the icing, to be nothing more than a cake-shaped pile of IOUs. Our metaphors are collapsing, but then so is the cake. And worse, those IOUs were written on the basis that Barcelona, when it comes to making money, will be doing so with Messi front and centre. They don't make enough from him to keep him. How much less will they make once he's gone?
More questions. So many questions. Will Barcelona be able to register any of their other new signings, or resist bids for their most valuable squad members? Will La Liga's shiny new private equity deal survive the departure of the league's most high profile player? Will Barcelona and Real Madrid summon up the energy for one more tilt at the European Super League? Messi's departure is an ending, at least of one story, but it's neither the beginning nor the end of the grinding conflict between the superclubs and the sport that made them super.
People know me, they know I am competitive, I want to keep winning. My last years I want to fight for titles. Congratulations to Dani Alves, I want more titles than him, I am near and will keep at it."
Perhaps there is a tendency to assume that Messi, who isn't as loud as other players about his own greatness, is somehow not driven by the same relentless drive for silverware and medals, glory and victory. If so, we can probably let that thought go. 34 years old, richer than would ever be necessary, ejected from your one and only club: short of writing HAVE A NICE SIT DOWN, LIONEL, YOU'VE EARNED IT across the sky, it's difficult to see what more the universe could have done.
But footballers are a long time retired. He doesn't need PSG's money but he needs PSG, or somebody like PSG, because he can read the logics of football just as well as the rest of us. Lots of teams are capable of winning something. Very few are capable of winning everything. (Assuming it happens, of course. We're not ruling out another twist. That would be foolish.)
Many things get in my head and I am a bit blocked. Until today it has not sunk in yet. I have been in the first team for 16 years and to start from scratch is hard for me and my family especially. We will adapt to what comes next. We have to accept it."
At some point soon — it could be today! — Lionel Messi will actually be seen alongside another team's shirt and it will actually belong to him. And it will still look weird. And it will continue to look weird well into this season. Maybe the next. Maybe the next two or three years will always seem a glitch, when we look back. Messi at PSG? You sure? You sure you're sure?

New Season, New Warnock

Worrying scenes in the Championship. No, we don't mean the football, although our heart goes out to any Nottingham Forest fans who thought this season was going to be any different to the others. Conceding a late equaliser is annoying; conceding again in the 96th minute is a sign that, yes, everything is still cursed.
No, we're talking about Neil Warnock. Middlesbrough were pretty flat against Fulham for 70-odd minutes, before poaching a late equaliser and ruining Marco Silva's day. And afterwards, Warnock went to the fans and had a little celebrate.
It is with interest, and with no little alarm, that we detect a late-career shift. First that clip of him handing out photos from a pouch around his waist; now this. From [Anagram Deleted] to charming star of viral videos. It feels like we need him to come out and say something very Colin in the next couple of weeks, just to keep things balanced. Much more of this and he'll start to look like a national treasure, and then we'll have to turn the whole country off and on again.

IN OTHER NEWS

Wahey! And then, again: wahey! Something for everybody to enjoy.

IN THE CHANNELS

How do you say goodbye to the greatest player in history? How else, but with a seven-minute mini-documentary. And how else to describe that video, when you place it on your official Youtube channel, but with rousing words. Beautiful words. Poetical words. Words to do the enormity of the situation justice.
Leo Messi, the Greatest Of All Time. Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations) …
Video's pretty good though.

HAT TIP

All change at Molineux, sort of. New head coach Bruno Lage has plenty in common with his predecessor Nuno Espirto Santo: both are Portuguese, and much more importantly both are represented by Jorge Mendes. But according to Will Unwin over at the Guardian, Lage comes with the promise of attacking football, which hasn't always been the case over the last few seasons. So that'll be fun. Here's former Benfica midfielder Keaton Parks on his old boss:
I liked him a lot. He’s a very intense coach, he doesn’t let you slack off at all – he’s all about winning and getting the best out of you. He’s very tactical; he liked to switch up how we were playing depending on our opponent. He is a very smart coach, he reads the game well and he is good at getting what he wants out of his players.

COMING UP

It's Kaiserslautern vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach in the first round of the DFB Pokal! Welcome back, football season. It's been hardly any time at all.
Ben Snowball will be here tomorrow with news of Messi's shock signing for [spins wheel] QPR?!
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