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The OTB podcast network football on Off the Ball with Paddy Power more confident than united before a Europa League final gamble responsibly CWG dot net. Now, then, you're welcome back. So like much of the world, we're still digesting a certain fax sent to Barcelona headquarters yesterday evening in the opinion of Lionel Messi, his legal team, his request that triggers a clause in his contract which allows him to leave for free. Barcelona hierarchy have a different interpretation. In their eyes, a 700 million euro buyout clause remains intact.
A compromise of sorts might be found. Regardless, it would seem that Messi at Barcelona and that era is no more. We're joined by some Cooper from the Financial Times. Simon, evening. Hi, how are you? Yeah, great to have you with us. Surreal to think of Messi wearing a different club jersey, for starters. I think he wanted to stay there forever, ideally, and he just grew so disappointed with the bad transfer policy, the failure to replace an aging team.
He blames the board for that. And he can't see how in the next couple of years they're going to be a great side. And Messi plays with great sides. He's always said the most important thing for me is to have a winning project. And I just think he can't see that at Barcelona for the next period. You're writing a book on Barcelona at the moment.
You mentioned this in the Financial Times this afternoon. One of the kind of more incidental but interesting points he made was you happened to drive by Masais House. I must say, I'd never given much thought before to Massie's house. I didn't happen to drive by it. I got talking to the taxi driver and she lived in coastal defense and she said, well, I'll show you my house. He's sort of a neighbor of mine. And she drove past it.
And it was very interesting because it was just so unspectacular. It's kind of what you'd expect of a fairly wealthy person in the suburbs of, say, Orange County or Hertfordshire. He's built he's bought his neighbor's house. He put them all together. They built this high fence for privacy. That's bougainvillea and palm trees. You go see him. But otherwise, it's very kind of common. Suburban. And I thought if you're going to perform every week for 15 years, twice a week, this is the kind of boring, predictable life that you need.
This is the kind of routine that he seems to need to sustain that. And his parents live ten minutes away in another beach town as he's kind of brought his family out of the chaos of Argentina into this incredibly calm and peaceful, unglamorous. You know, there's a lot of very glamorous places in and around Barcelona. And this is not that. OK, so it's sleepy suburbia. Yeah, just not even on the beach, I mean, it's a beach town, which he's probably about three or four miles from the beach.
So, yeah, I mean, the whole Spanish press is actually encamped outside the compound right now. So I'm not giving away any secrets now.
I have never got the impression from him. And it's only reading things from afar clearly that this was a great difficulty for him. I never felt he was drawn to the celebrity lifestyle that Neymar, for instance, finds deeply attractive. I never felt it was a sacrifice on his part to live a boring life. It seemed like exactly the kind of life he wanted to live.
Yeah, I mean, people who know Messi always say he's not shy, he's not timid, is quite assertive, but he's an introvert and he has a very predictable circle of his family members, his wife, who he's known since childhood, and a few friends, not many. And so this is the life that he wants. And often when a foreign football arrives in a new city, usually alone, it comes with an entourage of mates, maybe a physio, Nemos case, a hairdresser, and they all live in the house.
You have the entourage living in the house. That's all they're to. Is it Barcelona? It Messi had the luck that the club was willing to pay for his family to come over. And the only players you've ever come out of the must as foreigners and made it to the first team at Barça Messi, Santiago Countrie, who now plays course very well for Bayern Munich, and they both had their families on site. It's very, very hard to do it without.
And your research for the book, Simon, and through the various people that you've spoken to, how would you categorize are characterized rather the extent of Massey's influence at Barcelona and the nature of his influence at Barcelona over the last couple of years?
I mean, it's grown hugely because in the Guardiola era, of course, it you mostly the club around itself because you have great players coming through all the time. You had a decision maker in charge, Guardiola, who knew what he wanted. So he didn't really have to do much. Occasionally he'd intervene, like saying to Guardiola, you have to fix larcenous or the team because he's playing in my position. But mostly Messi wants somebody else to make the decisions.
He doesn't want to be the boss. But in the last few years, as the club has become more reliant on him on the field, as the transfer policy has failed. So you don't have other great players coming in more and more. He feels that he has to make the decisions. He has to tell the club what to do. So he said last year, you need to buy Neymar and commercially this was financially this is not possible. So the directors more or less pretended to try to buy Neymar for the whole summer and then told Messi then, well, we try, but we can buy it.
He wasn't impressed. So he feels that against his will, he's had to become a decision maker when he'd rather just be a player. But of course, he's a very opinionated man. So he wants someone else to make the decisions, but he wants them to make the decisions that he would make.
OK, so grudgingly, he's had to take more, maybe direct ownership over things. You had a quote in your piece in the Financial Times, a very interesting one from a former president who was telling you that quite often Messi doesn't need to speak. His body language is the strongest I have seen in my life. And I've seen him with a look in the locker room where everyone knows whether he agrees or not with a suggestion that is definitely a looming presence.
I would put it at all times at that club.
I think he's the way we see him on TV is a bit misleading because he's small. He has a very expressive face and he doesn't really feel any need to project his personality to us. He doesn't care about that. He wants to show us his football, but he doesn't want to show us his personality inside the club. He wants to make his views known. And of course, when something big happens, like when a coach is being sacked or when there's talk of buying great on, everybody looks at Messi.
Does he want this? And if Messi wants this, like in the case of Neymar, then a more articulate player like a drug, will you voice the thoughts and be a kind of spokesman for the movement? But everyone looks to look actually literally looks at his face first.
So he is more forthcoming behind the scenes then in terms of because when you mentioned the lack of expression in his face, I certainly get that. I mean, everybody marvels at his football. How could you not? But I don't I don't have a feel for him, really, as a person who gives so little away, he doesn't want us to have a feel for him. He doesn't care about that. I mean, for him, the outside world is just people holding up smartphones in his face and and shouting his name and asking for his autograph.
He can't really go outside much anyway because of his celebrity. Other players can go for dinner in Barcelona. He can't really. So he he doesn't have a particular relationship to us. And he isn't a kind of body narcissist like Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be that he wants people to kind of admire the body and the clothes. Messi just wants you to see his football. Did you get the impression from people you spoke to that he's well liked in the club or is as it kind of almost morphed into some kind of fear and trepidation and walking on eggshells around them?
I mean, I know that Suarez and Jordi, genuine friends of his and they were on holiday with him. I think I mean, he doesn't seek to be liked by lots of people, he's not the kind of backslapping guy that's one of the support staff is kind of old fat guy, very kind of unglamorous figure. It looks like a janitor who is always around messy. They have a special friendship relationship. He liked Villanova. So he has a few people in the club he's close to.
But I mean, he doesn't seem to have a big social circle. I think most people in all of him I mean, think he told me that Boston is a team of great footballers, which I think is true despite the two. But he said there's one player who is much better than everybody else and everybody knows that. So you have a dressing room, people who've won World Cups, they've won the biggest prizes and they know they are much less good than this guy.
And so that creates a kind of all relationship. Yeah.
You know, by one calculation, 40 percent of the salary bill of the whole playing squad, which is an extraordinary gap and probably unprecedented, really pretty much every year or every other football club. But I suppose as for the reasons you've just outlined, maybe there's an understanding in the dressing room that, well, he is messy after all.
I mean, in football clubs, there are Iraqis which are very clear. So, for example, at Liverpool, Gerald was the boss. He was not the most articulate person who wasn't going to talk most, but his what he wanted was law. And he was the guy you sought to impress. And at top clubs, it's often about quality, said Gerald was the best player, not Liverpool. Messi is by far the best player at Barcelona, at smaller clubs as often about who's cool because you know the difference of quality in small clubs, often not very big.
So it's he's cool. He's been playing for the club a long time. Who has a dressing room claque at the top. Quality is really decisive. That's how you judge people.
It does seem like a tricky dressing room with Messi very much, obviously at the core of the click. And it's those with Barcelona DNA in their bones and outsiders struggle to penetrate quite often.
I think that quite generous to outsiders because they feel a responsibility to the club, which is unusual in football. So the full captains, Messi and Sergio Garcia, they've all been at the club since felted. They did care about Barcelona. So they will be quite welcoming to newcomers. They'll test them. You know, in the world knows that they get in the middle games to see if a guy can has perfect control, etc., but they are open to it.
You know, that was resentment's a great one because he indicated he didn't want to come to Barcelona. I think that one of the difficulties now is that Massey's best friends, Jordi Alba, insofar as far as has been told, he has to leave. I think Messi could live with that. But come on, he's not a man of many words and he's not a kind of hugely cautious guy. He's a typical old Dutchman called Suarez. In the conversation, you have to go with less than one minute.
And Messi felt this was disrespectful. Barcelona is a very conscious place. You don't say things directly to people's faces. You you show consideration. It's very hard to say something mean. And so Messi is outraged that Suarez was disposed of without all honors and that definitely disposed of against the new coach who otherwise could have been. And I because no one wanted him to stay in Cuba, also said, look under me, you won't have any privileges. And Messi found that insulting.
And I mean, again, I think I grew up in Holland. I think it's very Dutch to lead with with bad news. And Kuman didn't spend a huge amount of time apparently saying, I love you. You're the greatest ever. Which seems quite naive, to be honest, I think Coulomb didn't want Messi as. The leader and one of the problems with Messe, which everyone acknowledges is that he doesn't defend anymore and not Suarez, and so the old pressing game that that Barcelona played for many years that they perfected, they don't they don't press it already.
And the best pressing teams in the business are now Liverpool and by Munich, who are just streaks ahead. And so if you're going to play the Barcelona game, you can't play it with Messi as he has become the player who covers at least kilometers of any other footballer in Europe, pretty much put in place it and come and tell them your privileges are over.
And you're saying you've been getting away with things. And how else would Messi react to that Goodbody? I think Coogan is a plain speaker and Messe comes from growing up in cultures where that is not done. So I think that was an immediate clash there. But it may be that Coulomb. Is happy for me to take the blame for mercy going, and Coulomb will now have the opportunity on a much bigger budget to build a new team, a team that is hardworking and young and pressies, et cetera.
OK, so maybe humans are shrewd. Operator then I'm giving him credit for here. Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing.
I think he's blunt and I think he wasn't devastated that he left. I think he would have liked him to stay. But on Cushman's conditions. OK.
So in your research for the book and you mentioned the last five years and a billion spent on transfers and rather famously, they haven't the whole amount to show for first of lies, how have they got that so spectacularly wrong with all the money, money, millions they've handed out to different players?
And there is a lot of naiveté in constructing a very old team. You already have an old saying and then you buy someone who's twenty eight seems a bit bizarre and now peonage is Stussy coming in for accounting reasons? They they didn't really pay any attention to age structures. I mean, one of the issues is there's many forces at Barcelona each wanting their own transfers. You, the president and his men, you have the opposing directly changes almost every day.
And then you have the senior players. So often none of them consult the coach about who they want. So the process is very messy to try and make a pun. And then you have the problem of Messi so that often the players you're buying with Lionel Messi of their past club, so Catina other being the Messi of Liverpool. And that's going to be the message of Atletico Madrid, the guy who is giving the ball all the time, he starts the attack, who has a free role.
He doesn't have to defend as much. And then the mini Messi comes to Barcelona. Suddenly he doesn't get the ball and he struggles. He can't really find a role. And so, I mean, that's poorly thought through, of course, by the club. But it's hard. I mean, the players who are complementary with Messi. So Suarez finishes off message. Sacks works very well. A young Neymar ran onto message process, worked very well when one wanted to be Messi himself, which great players tend to want to.
They want to be the number two in the free world. That doesn't work. And yeah, I mean, are very hard to get right. The last thing is that the system Barcelona play was very complex. It's a one touch game of possession in a forty, forcing me to band. It's just very difficult to get used to that.
What do you suspect someone is the most natural fit for Messi going forward then?
The problem for any player leaving Barcelona, you know as well as a success, is there's only three or four clubs who can afford to buy you with Messi who can afford him. I mean, he actually has very little choice because let's say the transfer fee has been talked about a two hundred and twenty million plus his salary, his salary, maybe. Manchester says he can do it. Palestine means that they can. I mean, it will be a process of elimination, whoever can pay that salary city, which seems to be a decent fit, given that he doesn't really care too much for the coaches.
But he did work quite well with Guardiola and Guardiola knows how to talk to him. So it's hard to see any other club getting in there instead.
Why do you say Messi doesn't care too much for the coaches? Messi sees football as a players game. He thinks that if you have great players on the field, like Barcelona did with seven and nine million Suarez, they'll sort it out. He doesn't particularly care much about any kind of tactical briefings by a coach, OK? He just wants to go out and play football. OK, I guess maybe that is the natural vantage point of perhaps the greatest footballer of all time.
So the cult of Guardiola might have been something he would crack a wry smile at in his private moments.
He doesn't listen to all that stuff. He doesn't he's not very interested in football is a spectator game is something that we talk about. He wouldn't listen to programs like this in Spain, as it were. He doesn't care if he thinks coaches are overrated. The other thing is, of course, the coach provides tactical analysis. But who is the best analyst of a football game while it's happening? It's messy, messy, sees this place better than the best that anyone else can.
So the extent to which he needs a coach is very limited. Do we know, is he passionate or interested about anything in his private life? He drives his kids to school. He takes them to the local restaurant and have a kind of private room, very simple place for dinners. He plays football with his sons. He doesn't really he doesn't have an exciting life. So simplicity and calm have been the hallmarks of the last 15 years. This will be for him, a big change and a big move.
Now, maybe the flipside of that point is what he simply copies and pastes is very boring life very easily onto any city in Europe, because effectively it's not about the city he's in. It's just about his immediate circle. And it will be just fine. He'll have settled in three days then. Yeah.
I mean, I can't imagine he speaks much English with one of the interesting things his sons actually attend. They go to the British school, which is very common among the Catalan elite. So you send your children to foreign schools, French language, German language, English language. So maybe the English learning of his children is part of the motivation. You know, certainly they would be better placed in a way to make a move than he is.
What Spain or what is your book going to cover when it comes to Barcelona, Simon?
Well, Messi is very kindly provided me with the ending, which I didn't have until last week. But it starts with cries to the man who made Barcelona the architects of the whole thing. So it starts with your own crash landing there in nineteen seventy three and it ends on what was in August. Twenty fifth when Messi hands and his transfer request, I guess. Yes. So at various points, especially in the last 15 years, we've had the year of the President.
You remind me of his name, Crawford the year quarter and there is this hope the JARVIE will be at three following Kreuz from Guatemala and come back and reinstall all those values. How optimistic would you be of that happening? The CROIS influence, even beyond the grave, can still dictate the flow of this club.
Well, crêpes basic idea for Goldwax is we have the ball, we play in your half, we press, we pass. When we lose it, we win it back at once. We overlap, we change positions. And he does that now. That's Liverpool and by Munich. And it works. You know, they play they play the kind of game he described with a football playing goalkeeper, you know, with a goalkeeper who can pass. So is almost the blueprint modernized for twenty twenty of what I was talking about fifty years ago as well by day now and by no coincidence, brought in to craft and manages Louis Phumzile and Guardiola to make that happen.
And so. That could be the best I could. It won't happen at once because they don't have any money to buy good new players and they have a very old saying that there is a model that works and they will have to go back to the academy, which is producing players who can play that system and give it five years. I think he's waiting for the right moment to step in and the job does seem to be his when he wants it.
Yeah, I mean, I suppose the downside risk for him as a woman is an incredible success. They win everything this season. They win the Champions League, and then it's hard to push them aside. But given the the playing squad, I can't see that happening. Yeah, I wouldn't think so. Do you suspect Barcelona are desperately trying to keep Messi just now?
I think the board is very torn because on the one hand, you don't want to be the president of Mexico. In the last 10 years, they lost trophies, honorary president. He resigned his position before he died. They lost Guardiola and now they're losing Messi. And so for Guatemala, the president's huge humiliation. There's a complication, though, which is that when you leave as a board and there's elections due in the next few months, you have to show that the financial accounts are clean, that there's no big new debts.
And if they're are you the board members personally have to pay them out of your own pocket. You have to cover them. And of course, the club is in an enormous financial mess because of the failures on the field, the bad transfers and now the coronavirus. So this is happening at a terrible moment. So the one way to get the accounts in order is to say, well, Messi, we couldn't keep him, but hey, we got two hundred and twenty million euros for him.
So now we become so pretty good. So I think Bartolomeo is a terrible choice over what to do.
One last point then. Regardless of where he goes, that's Manchester City. For for argument's sake, to what extent is is bringing Messi also bringing a problem now? It's a first class problem and it's a problem clubs would like to have, but he will be very shortly. Thirty four, you have to think dramatically ish on the wane relatively soon. And you've talked about his presence and the body language, even, for instance. And he will still, to some extent rather be the top dog in the dressing room to some extent or other.
So, you know, you're bringing in someone that very, very soon you're going to have to upset potentially by not playing. So, I mean, the baggage that your brain is by far the best player in the world. OK, but in two, three years, I'm talking about you give him a two year contract and you say, look, in two years time, we'll see how you're placed. And if you feel great, like Christianity is always so great and then perfect, well, we'll keep you on who would not want him.
So, you know, I'm going to say, for argument's sake, say we're sitting in the board and we're discussing this now and you make that point. The counterpoint would be, OK, say we bring him in. And in two years, it's very clear we're not going to offer him an extension. And he sees the writing on the wall about six months out. So then pretty much a year to 18 months into our two year contract, we've got a player who's not happy because he knows where I could give him an extension.
He wants an extension. I've got his people ringing me every week. Meanwhile, he's sulking down there in the dressing room and influencing all the young players with him.
I don't see Messi as a guy who goes I mean, you always have the older players discontented and he's on the way up. But this guy is so much about subclause achievement. He monitors himself for the moment when that fades. And I don't think he's going to leave. He's still great when he isn't great anymore. I mean, he's talked about how he's coming to the end. He's heading for the final. Is he? He's very realistic. So I don't think that he believes he can play forever.
OK, we're all realistic until it goes.
Yeah, but I mean, two years time he'll be thirty five. I mean, you can still play almost anywhere else in the world and everyone would still have him here. But I mean he also lives very well, you know, he's practically vegan during the season. He consults nutritionists all the time. He's very, very careful and he presents himself by not defending. So Guardiola will have to understand that that's part of the deal and the other players will have to understand that as well.
OK, well, for the guys, for the sheer thrill of it, you've convinced me, let's sign them. Two years. Fifty million a year. He can like it or not. But when's the book coming out, by the way? Sometime next year.
We have to decide on the exact date, which I understand is not not completely clear now. OK, well, listen, thanks so much for your time. Simon Cooper writing about the messy situation in the Financial Times, which you can get online or I'm sure in your local shop as well. Simon, thanks so much. Thank you.
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