Ronald Koeman discards Luis Suárez, who has always served as the Argentine’s emotional crutch for his new project
When Pep Guardiola decided that Ronaldinho and Deco could not continue another day going to the Barcelona facilities, a member of the then board of directors chaired by Joan Laporta wondered: «Neither one nor the other is the best influence for Messi. But now who is going to take care of him? ».
The Argentine had just turned 21 and his silences were already disturbing. At the club, they had already seen him despair the night in which Rijkaard’s Barça won the Paris Champions League and Messi, who did not play that game, refused to be in the photo. The purging of his first mentors not only did not condition him but allowed him to unleash his football leadership. Over the years he found key supporters in the booth such as former goalkeeper José Manuel Pinto -who made the most of his career as a Barça player-, Brazilian Dani Alves, old friends of La Masia such as Gerard Piqué or Cesc Fàbregas, or footballers whom he always thanked Help provided in their promotion and permanence in stardom, like Xavi, Iniesta or Sergio Busquets. Jordi Alba, perhaps his best interpreter in the last five years, also ended up being part of his trusted group. Although none of them ever achieved the status of Luis Suárez, Messi’s great emotional crutch that Barcelona has decided to part with.
First was the mate. Later, life. The approach of their families, of calm and parallel customs. The holidays. The hours preparing roasts in their adjoining mansions in Castelldefels. The mornings at the door of the school and the hours lost between jokes on the road, sharing a car in so many comings and goings. Under the mantle of Pepe Costa, the Argentine’s great protector at the club, no one at the club had so far dared to sever Messi’s alliance with Luis Suárez, unbreakable for the last six seasons.
For the government of Josep Maria Bartomeu, both immobile and fearful, it was always a taboo subject. As much as the Uruguayan’s physical problems limited his contribution to the team more and more. Ronald Koeman, on the other hand, is not afraid to get his hands dirty. Both the hiring of the Dutch coach and the firmness with which he is making his first decisions have allowed Bartomeu to spend some time in battle without anyone noticing him too much. It was also about that.
And Koeman is not willing to waste time. Three days after the coach tried to convince Messi that he must be the mainstay of reconstruction even at the risk of losing friends and structural partners along the way, the Wembley hero made the call that no one wanted to make. It was the RAC1 station that advanced how Koeman officially communicated to Suárez that he was not part of his project. Something that the Uruguayan, 33, already expected. Nobody had sent him the planning of the return to training. As much as he has a contract until June 30, 2021, with a clause in which he could still renew until 2022 as long as he played 60% of games next season.
FORMULAS FOR TERMINATION
Barcelona, as explained by the club’s executive sources to this newspaper, is looking for formulas to reach a settlement agreement (his net annual salary is around 17 million euros) that does not make his departure traumatic. Another thing will be how he can solve the equation of the position given the scoring impact of Suárez. For something he is the third-highest historical scorer of the entity (198 goals in 283 games), surpassing legendary players such as Kubala. The viability of hiring Lautaro Martínez, a footballer who always performed better as the second striker, is far from clear. Hence, no one considers Griezmann’s departure.
The Koeman purge, in the absence of a radical change of position, does not affect more totems. Ivan Rakitic (contract until 2021), Arturo Vidal (2021), and Samuel Umtiti (2023), the other three footballers whom the coach has asked to find a way out, are part of a middle class without direct impact on the heart of the swollen. Rakitic happened to be a spectral player since last summer. Arturo Vidal, headline at Anfield and Lisbon and a metaphor for chaos, always had a good poster to oppose a sale. While Umtiti stayed to live in the infirmary since the World Cup in France prioritized his knee.
Jordi Alba’s disconcerting contract (he still has four more seasons left) made an exit so impossible that Koeman has convinced himself that he may not have a better candidate for the position. While Sergio Busquets, if he accepts that he must give way to Frenkie de Jong, he will be able to continue being part of the team.
Messi, however, has yet to decide whether it is worth continuing.