Have Real Madrid ever been as successful as they were with Di Stefano?

Have Santos ever been as magical as they were with Pelé?

Or Bayern as dominant as they were with Beckenbauer?

Have Ajax ever been as ruthless as they were with Cruijff?

Since Maradona left, have Napoli been half the team they were with him?

Why on earth would Barcelona ever be as good as we were, and have been, with Messi?

Lionel Messi has been more consistent for more consecutive seasons than any of these football legends. He just surpassed Pelé for most goals scored in six consecutive seasons, along with winning six league titles and three Champions League trophies since his debut 10 years ago.

Messi is just 27 years old and there is already a “Before and After Messi” on this centenary sport.

How could someone even think of selling a player that comes once in a hundred years, when no money could ever bring someone to replace him, and no one available even comes close to his abilities?

Well, according to a census by Catalunya Radio, 16 percent of Futbol Club Barcelona members think selling Messi would be fine. Let us examine how this insanity has come to pass.

The Plan

Lionel Messi has always been coveted by other clubs. Real Madrid, Celtic, Juventus, Inter Milan, and every single club that are now funded by billionaires: Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG. That is completely normal and will not hold true until he retires.

It has never been a problem, because our club has always made it clear, not only to the media and the fans, but to Messi and his family, that they have no intention of selling him. Joan Laporta put a plan in place where Messi would get automatic renewals each year, following his growth and development. And that was something Sandro Rosell continued at least until September 2013.

That is when the impossible, the unthinkable, became something we have since talked about regularly.

It came out of nowhere. "In a poll done by CAT Radio, 2 percent of the members would like to sell Lionel Messi," reported the station. Why on earth was the club asking this question after we had just won La Liga with a record 100 points and Messi had literally broken all scoring records known? Well, the club had a plan. They had just signed Neymar.

I know. I know. Most people don't believe this story, given how absurd it sounds, but it's true. Neymar's signing was secured in 2011 in a pre-contract with Barcelona, merely months after Messi had achieved his third Champions League title, where he scored and was selected as man of the match at Wembley. The current Barcelona board never liked the fact that Messi had left Nike to be sponsored by Adidas, for instance. But that was not all.

Why is Real Madrid much more valuable than Futbol Club Barcelona? Why does Florentino Pérez keep buying star player after star player like he’s collecting the shiniest toys there are in European football, even if to do so he has to sell the likes of Xabi Alonso and Ángel Di Maria? Well, it’s simple: When you buy a player, that player theoretically becomes the club’s property. And if you buy him for €40 million, for instance, and the player keeps developing and increases his market value to €70 million, that means your club’s financial worth has grown.

That is the main reason Real Madrid has assets of around €800 million, and Barcelona, which generates roughly the same revenue each year, is only valued at roughly €400 to €500 million. Since our club has been built around La Masia players like Victor Valdés, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, and Messi, they could not possibly list players of this caliber as part of their assets. Because they did not buy them.

But who cares about that? These players are priceless, and have helped us achieve dozens of titles.

I agree completely. It should not matter at all.

But it does to Sandro Rosell, Bartomeu, and the current board, at least. When they could not declare such phenomenal players as assets, which would increase our value considerably and allow the club to get easier lines of credits with banks and be able to bolster a better financial status, they began to question this whole La Masia thing.

That is one of the reasons why Valdés left as he did, and why La Masia has been in decline since Rosell took over. Barcelona's footballing essence — the system that has given us everything since 1988, our identity — matters little to these people. Having huge assets, getting easy loans, and paying our debt faster matter more. That is why we have constantly been buying youngsters for La Masia and Barcelona B, and why NONE of them have ever been useful for the first team. The new signings are assets, while La Masia's players are not. That is why, according to some, Messi could be "our ruin".

La Masia’s problems will be the subject for another article. The important point here is that the Barcelona board sees a price tag on every single player we own, and they know the biggest one on earth belongs to Messi. And they have always been tempted to cash in.

The Process

That is why they found a player with enough media pull and charisma — the best player playing in South America. When Neymar arrived in the 2013/14 season, he was also promised something: “In one year this team will be all yours."

The media attacks toward Messi had already started by then. Even though he had scored 50 Liga goals in the past season, and 73 (!!!) in the whole season, the two embarrassing defeats versus Bayern Munich were attributed to his injury, not Tito Vilanova’s recent return after battling cancer and Bayern Munich’s own merits.

The club did not move a single feather to help Messi defend himself against the slanderous pieces published on his tax issues, and hired Gerardo Martino while leaking to their usual friends in the press that Messi had asked personally for him because Martino was his father’s favorite player at Newell’s Old Boys. Truth be told, Messi and Martino had never met prior to him coming to Barcelona.

And the 2013/14 season went exactly as they wished. So much so that Rosell planted the little “two percent of the members would sell Messi” seed on September 8 in the media. The team was yet to gel; like all the other players, Messi was far from his best, and was even injured for almost two months in the final months of 2013. During the same period, Messi had a meeting with Rosell, who told him something along the following lines during renewal talks, “I don’t want to sell you, but there are people in my board who do."

Javier Faus, the man of the Qatar deals, saw it fit to say on December 10, 2013, that, “We (Barcelona) don’t have to renew the salary of 'ese senyor' every six months." Interesting that he decided to talk against something that had been happening since 2006, a few months after Neymar was signed.

Then the unthinkable happened. Messi, who was recovering in Argentina, responded to Faus on December 20. He hit him hard and defended not only himself, but his family: “Faus knows nothing about football. He wants to run the club like a company. Barcelona needs to be represented by the best board members."

The player who never talks to the press, the player whose personal life is a mystery, had come swinging against the board who had been disrespecting him for months, and especially since Neymar’s arrival.

Then came January 2014. And Neymar’s signing brought down Rosell and most of his plans. But not this one.

Messi was attacked viciously by the media, who was saying he was saving himself for the World Cup (even though he played the exact same way in Brazil as he did throughout the season), that he was no longer interested, that he had enough. And it reached its boiling point after Barcelona lost La Liga at home to Atlético Madrid in the final day of the season while playing very poorly, and Messi’s father and brother were attacked by fans leaving the stadium.

All of that happened while the board stalled Messi’s renewal. It had been on the table since August 2013, but the club stalled until a few days before Messi travelled to Brazil for the World Cup. Nine long months where the best player of all time had to wait and read the news that HE was the problem, that he was demanding players like Sergio Agüero and a bigger salary. Messi did make one demand, though: Give me a competitive team for next season. By then, Bartomeu was the new president. Neymar had had a regular season, at best, and was far from being the one to take the crown from Messi, as the board, especially Rosell, wished. Bartomeu, the president no one voted for, did (in theory) build a competitive team. Luis Suárez and Ivan Rakitic, plus two goalkeepers and two centre backs came in. The team was clearly not strengthened enough, especially in midfield, but Messi’s request had been answered.

Messi had arrived in Brazil making it very clear: “I will stay with Barcelona as long as the fans want me. The second they no longer do, I will find another option." The episode where his father and brother were attacked at the Camp Nou did not go well with him at all.

Then came the World Cup. And even though Messi carried Argentina out of the group stages, beat Switzerland, suffered Brasilia’s hot sun to edge Belgium out only to be caged by Louis van Gaal in the semifinal, he still reached the day he had been waiting for since his childhood. In the end, it wasn’t meant to be. First Higuain, then Messi himself, and Palacio. The ball didn’t go in, and Germany won.

The Current Season

After a deserved rest, Lionel Messi returned to Barcelona. He now had the likes of Suárez to train with, the kind of striker he had been waiting for since 2012. But Messi needed time to regain his form, the same way the team needed time to gel. The first half of this season was very similar to what we saw in the previous one: Messi not scoring as often in a position where he didn't enjoy playing while watching Cristiano Ronaldo open a difference of 12 goals in the Pichichi race as La Liga's top scorer.

Things were not going exactly well before 2015, and what was the board planning to do? To renew Neymar, naturally! The player who was yet to win relevant trophies at Barcelona and yet to have a complete great season, and whose signing has brought a world of institutional issues, now was deserving of a renewal a few months into the season. At least that was their idea in November.

Then Barcelona went to Anoeta, and all hell broke loose. Messi’s relationship with Luis Enrique went south as the manager's extreme methods created an uncomfortable atmosphere in the dressing room. It led to disagreements between squad and manager, solved by open dialogue between both parties at least until the end of the season.

Elections were called by Bartomeu, Barcelona were going to face Atlético Madrid at home. Things still looked grim until our attacking trio finally clicked. It was already happening throughout the season: Messi and Neymar were becoming actually good friends. The two of them, with Suarez, not only developed a great friendship, but also started producing the type of performances we expected from them.

The Future

Since January 4, bar the Málaga defeat, we have only been winning. And Messi has scored over 20 goals and provided over 10 assists. His best-ever start in the first months of the year.

Messi is happy, he is fighting over every single ball he can, and the team is crushing opponents from plays that start and finish on his feet. And yet, 16 percent of socis would want to sell him.

As I explained, Rosell’s plan has worked. Now people doubt Messi’s love for Barcelona, and think Neymar could be what Messi was to Ronaldinho as the next big thing.

But the truth is Ronaldinho, at his peak, was not even half the player Messi is. And Neymar, if we are lucky, will only manage to become half as good as the Argentinian.

What good would it do us to have €250 million in the bank, or even a billion euros if Lionel Messi is sold? If the man crushed Manchester City on his own, a team who literally spent over a billion euros already, at their stadium, what good would money do us?

Lionel Messi has no price. No other club in history which had a legendary player of Messi’s caliber has lived to see such good days as they had when their best-ever player was around. And that would also be the case for us.

This Barcelona board is done. On March 13, it was revealed former club president Sandro Rosell and current president Josep María Bartomeu (and the club) will be sued for fiscal fraud. If they get to run in club elections, they will lose. But the consequences of their wrongdoings will remain.

They have already paid over €13 million in preemptive penalty fees for the Neymar case, and that will only get worse. The MCM case could claim up to €100 million from the club's coffers. FC Barcelona spent almost €200 million last summer on new signings alone. Selling Messi would surely cover all of that, and even more.

“They couldn’t care less that the members slaughter them. What they don’t want is to be driven out of the club and still have to pay money from their pockets."

That is what a source told Frederic Porta, one of the most trustworthy journalists around, about this board’s plan to sell Lionel Messi.

We cannot let this board do as they want. We have to make sure Messi feels comfortable and loved at Barcelona, playing for the club we love. Not only because he has earned that, but because, even to the 16 percent who want him gone, no one could ever replace him.

We should not even be talking about the possibility of selling Messi. And we soon would not be, because this is still fixable.

A healthy club would have its fans talking about naming our new stadium, if a new one is built, after him.

Estadi Lionel Messi.

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