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Are football players too powerful? | Messi situation shines light on football politics

Stephen Kisbey-Green
Stephen Kisbey-Green

19:41 26 Aug 2020

The current situation between Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona’s management team has brought to light the powers that modern footballers have over their club.

The news broke on Tuesday that the Argentinian star had sent in his intentions to leave the club that he has been a part of for 19 years via a burofax.

Numerous reports have suggested that Messi’s desire to leave the club was influenced by him not agreeing with the vision of new Barcelona head coach Ronald Koeman.

It has also been speculated that Messi’s loyalty to striker Luis Suarez and Koeman reportedly being open to offers for the Uruguayan also affected his decision to leave the club.

But Andy West, sports writer and author of 'Lionel Messi and the Art of Living' on Tuesday’s Football Show on Off The Ball said that Messi’s influence over former club managers and in the team cannot be overlooked.

“Messi isn't completely innocent in this,” West said.

“He has been granted, and taken, too much power, too much influence over the direction of the club.

“And [Barcelona] have been caught between the directors, led by [Josep Maria] Bartomeu, trying to do what they think is best for the long term future of the club … and trying to keep Messi happy by doing things like not benching Luis Suarez or selling him when they could have done.”

West pointed out that this type of locker room politics has been common in football in the past, however looked to legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson as the example of how to deal with it.

“If you think back to Manchester United in the way they were able to stay at the top for so long under Sir Alex Ferguson it's because he made ruthless decisions,” West said.

“As soon as he felt that a player or a group of players were becoming too big, too influential, [or] bigger than the club he would just get rid of them with no hesitation.

“Barcelona haven't done that… now it's way too late.”

If Messi is able to free himself of his Barcelona contract, there is only a select few number of clubs that could afford to gain his services, and even fewer that are able to live up to his potential demands.

Players as big as Messi are able to dictate the terms of their contracts and how they will be featured in a team, while in most other professional sports they are simply there to fit into the coach’s plans.

This is not to say that it doesn’t happen elsewhere, however.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) looks in the direction of tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) before completing a 6-yard pass to Gronkowski on the opening drive of the AFC Championship Game game between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs on January 20, 2019 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Credit Image: © Scott Winters/Icon SMI via ZUMA Press)

Brady brings Gronk to the Bucs

The National Football League (NFL) has a number of larger than life personalities, none more so than legendary quarterback Tom Brady and his two-team teammate Rob Gronkowski.

The New England Patriots traded away Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March this year, in a move that West believes could be comparable to where Messi might end up.

While this move itself was not a power play, as it was a simple trade between the two teams, Brady’s actions after signing with the Bucs could be seen as using his power in the locker room and with the owners to dictate his time with the franchise.

According to several reports at the time, Brady pushed head coach Bruce Arians to attempt a trade for the retired tight-end Gronkowski, which subsequently became a reality in April this year.

The Patriots traded Gronkowski and a seventh-round pick in exchange for a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

This push for the Tampa Bay side to sign Gronkowski was not seen as a demand by the Buccaneers, however several reports from America stated that Brady continued to push the idea until Tampa’s general manager Jason Licht agreed to look into it.

Gronk retired at the end of the 2018 season at the age of 29, citing the mental and physical strain that his years of injuries had put on him.

However this has been criticised as well by pundits in America, including Gary Tanguay of NBC Sports who has said in April that Gronk did not retire but merely quit the New England team.

His seemingly miraculous recovery to join his quarterback in Tampa a year after his retirement would suggest that there might be some truth to Tanguay’s claims.

The tight end was notorious at the Pats for ensuring that he was the highest paid player in his position in the NFL, while taking days and even games off during the season.

There is little argument that Gronk and Brady are two of the greatest NFL players in history, however they have used this reputation to get their way over their coaches and teams in much the same manner that Messi has done in Barcelona.

Former South Africa captain AB De Villiers square cuts against India on opening day of the ICC Champions Trophy. The SWALEC Stadium, Cardiff.

IPL worth more than International cricket

This type of power over managers and coaches is rarer in sports such as cricket or rugby, as players that disagree with their coaches on how they are treated or who they are playing with lose the battle more often than not.

But cricket is not immune to players using their influence to get more money out of their career by dictating where they play, as South African cricketing great AB de Villiers proves.

De Villiers is one of the greatest batsmen South Africa has produced since readmission to international cricket in 1992.

He has played in 114 Tests, 228 One Day Internationals and 78 T20 Internationals, and holds the record for the fastest fifty in ODIs, with just 16 balls faced in 2015 against the West Indies.

However, he went into early retirement from international cricket in 2018, at the age of 34, stating that he was tired and that it was time for someone new to come into the Proteas squad.

However, he continued to play domestic cricket in South Africa for the Dolphins, as well as in the Indian Premier League (IPL) for the Royal Challengers.

The decision to carry on playing in the IPL drew criticism from fans in South Africa in particular, as it was reported that IPL contract was worth up to seven times as much as his Proteas contract.

These criticisms were compounded in 2019 during the Cricket World Cup when it was reported that De Villiers had made himself available for the World Cup on the same day that the squad was due to be selected.

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Read more about

AB De Villiers Bartomeu FC Barcelona Football Lionel Messi NFL New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski Royal Challengers Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Brady

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