Lionel Messi has been Barcelona’s main man for a long time now.
The diminutive Argentine maestro has done things that many thought to be impossible over the course of his career.
His continued excellence individually has reshaped the way people perceive FC Barcelona. From being called a one-man team to being dubbed “Messilona”, the dependency on Messi has been highlighted multiple times throughout his career.
The “Messedependencia”, total reliance on Leo Messi for inspiration, has never been more true than it is right now at FC Barcelona.
To understand this, we need to analyze his career progression so far and study how he has gone from being one part of a working system to being the only cog that keeps Barcelona ticking.
Lionel Messi made his La Liga debut as an 82nd-minute sub for FC Barcelona against local rivals Espanyol in 2004.
A bright-eyed youngster with a flowing mane, his frightening talent was there for all to see.
He struck up a good relationship Ronaldinho, who was probably the best in world football at the time. This relationship made the transition from the youth team to the first team a bit easier for Messi.
When Messi scored his first goal for Barcelona against Albacete on 1 May 2005, it was from a Ronaldinho assist.
Since then it’s been onwards and upwards for Messi. The years to come brought great individual, and team, success for the Argentine international.
In the summer of 2008, Josep “Pep” Guardiola was named as the new FC Barcelona boss. What followed was arguably the best Barcelona team ever seen, and at the forefront of this brilliant team was a brilliant little man, Lionel Messi.
As a club, FC Barcelona won 14 trophies in four years under the guidance of the Spanish boss. They won the Champions League twice in this period, with Messi scoring in both finals, both against Manchester United.
Within this spell, Messi underwent a period of total individual domination, perhaps best illustrated by his magical record-breaking 91 goal year in 2012.
He won the FIFA Ballon d’Or award four consecutive times and was regarded by most as the undisputed best player in the world.
This blinding individual success, however, was the beginning of what is now known as the “Messidependencia”.
Messi was so good, many couldn’t fathom how Barcelona could do well without him. Nicknamed “Messilona” by trolls and rival fans, the idea that without Messi Barcelona would crumble began to take root.
In reality, it was a combination of both. Messi was so good because of how well Barcelona operated, and Barcelona was so good because they could get the best out of Messi.
Being part of a working system was what helped the Argentine be so effective. He was still the primary goal scorer but within a well-oiled machine.
This way, Messi and Barcelona helped each other perform at the highest level, without being totally dependent on each other.
The 2013/14 season was a disappointing one for FC Barcelona. The club failed to win any of the competitions it participated in. This dry spell coincided with a period where Messi struggled with recurring injuries.
A particular low came in a 7-0 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The events of this period gave the Messidependencia movement more fuel.
The idea that Barcelona was tactically and also psychologically dependent on the presence of their star man had taken root.
After a four-year monopoly, Messi finally relinquished the title of World’s best player to his ever-present rival, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Despite these struggles, Messi still netted 41 times for the club that season. The injuries couldn’t hold him down forever, and it was only a matter of time before he got back to his best.
The following year brought perhaps the best version of Messi ever witnessed. The little man played with a renewed sense of purpose. Spurred on by a new manager, and backed by his teammates, Messi led Barcelona to a historic European treble.
This Messi, however, was different. Deployed on the right-wing in most games, he ran the show completely.
Goals, assists, chances created, dribbles completed, none of these statistics could properly quantify what was being witnessed.
In a season full of magical moments, arguably, the most crucial came in a Champions League semi-final against Bayern Munich.
Perhaps spurred on by a sense of revenge, Messi ran riot against the Bavarians, scoring twice and setting up a third, as Barcelona booked their place in the final for the first time in four years.
In the seasons that followed, Barcelona enjoyed continued domestic success. Messi was brilliant, but so were his teammates, Luis Suarez and Neymar Jr especially.
An iconic front three dubbed “MSN”, they were a joy to watch. Barcelona could count on each of them to deliver when it mattered most.
In the summer of 2017, the football world was rocked by the transfer of Neymar Jr to French giants Paris Saint Germain.
A big loss for Barcelona, and one that had to be handled properly. Ernesto Valverde, then the newly appointed manager, had to find a way to work without Neymar.
The club failed to sign an appropriate replacement and the Brazilian’s shoes had to be filled by Barcelona’s little talisman. Saddled with extra responsibility, Messi took it in his stride and led Barcelona to yet another domestic double.
The following year saw the departure of Andres Iniesta take place. Messi was now not only Barcelona’s talisman, he was their captain.
Messi dropped deeper and deeper in order to influence games. He bore, and still bears, the responsibility of starting and finishing moves for the Blaugrana.
His performance levels didn’t suffer, as he keeps scoring game after game, win after win. His continued excellence has helped the club get away with some questionable transfer dealings over the last few seasons.
The continued dependence on their magic little man could prove detrimental for FC Barcelona. Though he remains consistent in his output, the lack of substantial help limits what they can achieve as a team.
As Messi ages, the big question on everyone’s lips is a gloomy one; “When Messi retires, what happens to Barcelona?”