I have feared the transfer window through all my years as a soccer fan, the ever-present anxiety that your favorite team could be ripped apart in a matter of days. However, even though those tumultuous weeks come and go every year, fans often believe a few players are simply untouchable, unsellable, so tied to their clubs it feels blasphemous to think they could one day be gone.
But for many soccer fans like me, this belief — and, seemingly, the world — came crashing down this past summer with the departure of Lionel Messi from FC Barcelona.
Barcelona announced Aug. 5 Messi would no longer be continuing on the team after the club was constricted by financial concerns. The shockwave struck around the world, trending his name across social media and causing panic amongst fans frantically searching for a reason to believe the news wasn’t real.
In his 21 years at Barcelona, Messi won the team countless trophies, broke innumerable records, developed into the legendary player he is today and gained the adoration of millions of fans worldwide. He had never played for another team in Europe in his whole life, arriving at Barcelona’s youth academy, La Masia, at just 12 years old.
Barcelona was Messi, and Messi was Barcelona. My favorite player in the world on my favorite team in the world since I was 14 years old. My mom likes to remind me, “Lu, he didn’t die,” and she’s right. But his story with us was cut so much shorter than we ever believed it would be.
When I wrote my column about my Feb. 2020 trip to a game at Camp Nou, so much of the positive experience was heightened by Messi’s existence. The greatest player of all time is playing with the greatest team right before my eyes. It’s true what they say, watching him play feels like watching an art form. It’s soccer unlike anything else, and the pride you get from watching him in your team’s colors makes it even more special.
I promised myself I’d be back before he retired and left, a promise I now know I’ll never be able to keep.
I wouldn’t say I ever had a childhood hero, but Messi was without a doubt the closest I got. A tiny boy from Argentina with a medical condition his family couldn’t afford to treat who beat all the odds against him and became the greatest the world has ever seen. It’s a story that’s captivated me since the day I’ve heard it, and it’s always been an inspiration to me of how far determination and love for what you do can take you.
I’ve had a Messi poster hanging over my bed since I was a first-year at Campion Hall, his portrait complete with his Barcelona jersey and famous number 10. I’m looking at it as I write this column, still partially numb to the reality that such an astounding era is over.
But, the show must go on, and I must pass on the joy and excitement I felt watching Messi in my team’s jersey on good days and bad for the past seven seasons. That now belongs to the fans of Paris Saint-Germain.
This is my messy, disorganised and heartfelt farewell to Messi. Thank you for the immeasurable joy you brought to the team and to the millions of fans around the globe.
Thank you for changing the soccer world, and thank you for changing mine.