LaLiga: ‘There was life before Lionel Messi, there will be life after him,’ says league’s India head
'Life moves on. It is always sad when you lose the best player in the world, but we don’t see it affecting our business,' LaLiga India MD Jose Antonio Cachaza said.
New Delhi: Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi may have kept the footballing world on tenterhooks for much of last season, but Managing Director of LaLiga India, Jose Antonio Cachaza believes that the likely exit of the Argentine will not have a massive impact on the league’s popularity and reach.
Messi, over the course of the recently-concluded season, has made no secret of his displeasure with the Barcelona management, and had all but exited the club before renegading as an afterthought. It is, however, widely speculated that the man with 634 goals for the Catalan side across all competitions will not renew his contract that expires at the end of the 2020-21 season. European giants such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain were reportedly keen on the prodigal footballer, but a contentious 700 million euro release clause in his contract delayed what exceedingly seems like an eventuality.
Messi’s imminent departure means the league will lose the top two footballers of their generation – and the two highest winners of Ballon d’Or – in a space of three years. Cristiano Ronaldo’s move to Italian side Juventus in 2018 ended his celebrated rivalry with Messi within the iconic El Clasico, though fans of both these footballers waited for the Barce-Juve clash with bated anticipation.
Jose, speaking to select mediapersons in a virtual press conference, insisted that life in LaLiga will go on, even as the league will forever be indebted to Messi and Ronaldo for their services.
“Look, life moves on. It is always sad when you lose the best player in the world, but we don’t see it affecting our business. Even when Cristiano Ronaldo left, there was some interest lost in the contest, but in terms of growth of business or audience, there was no loss.
“Having said that, there are people who believe that the leaving of Messi will impact us more than the exit of Ronaldo, and that might be true. We know the presence of Messi is very important and it made Barca the most-watched team in LaLiga and among the most popular in Europe. So yes, his exit will definitely impact us, but we do hope that we shall overcome it and continue to expand,” he said.
At 33, many believe that Messi’s best years may well have been past him. In fact, the collective ageing of the Barcelona squad has been a bone of contention for the Spanish club for a while now, and technical follies aside, it was touted as one of the main reasons behind them not winning LaLiga last season and the 8-2 mauling at the hands of a rampaging Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals in Lisbon last month.
Barca, brimming with 30-plus players, failed to match the blistering, relentless pace of the Bundesliga champions and capitulated in what appeared a final nail in the Messi-Barca relationship.
Jose agrees that like Ronaldo, Messi may have spent his halcyon days in Spain. “Messi, for me, is among the top three or four greatest players of all time, but he is approaching the end of his career. Players come and go, sadly, but clubs and leagues stay. By the time he leaves Barcelona next year, although in football you can never say never, he will be 34, and we can safely say that his best years are, if not over, they are almost gone. We are fortunate that he spent his best years with us.
“Of course, we will always miss him, and we’ll be always thankful to him and Cristiano Ronaldo for giving us one of the best rivalries in team sports. Their rivalry is comparable only to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the NBA back in the 1980s. But, life goes on and we are planning for the future,” Jose added.
Despite the impending exit of Messi and his Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez, LaLiga is not short of exciting talent. Barca’s Ansu Fati, among the most promising youngsters going around, is one. The 17-year-old is the youngest to score and assist in LaLiga, besides being the youngest scorer in the Champions League and the youngest to score for Spain.
Jose believes that anyone of the three talented youngsters has the potential to claim greatness. “There is always a brief lull when a great departs, but there is always a new legend. Youngsters such as Ansu Fati, Mbappe, and Odegaard are all good and I believe one of them can fill the spot left by Messi.
“If you look at LaLiga’s history, Alfredo Di Stéfano was followed by Johan Cruyff. Then came Maradona, followed by Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo. So, one great is always followed by another, and I am sure the cycle will continue. It may take some time, as is natural, but a new legend will be born.”
The 90th season of LaLiga will begin on 12 September (IST) and the matches will be streamed live on Facebook. In a departure from pre-COVID times, the nine-month season will feature matches mid-week, as well as around Christmas and New Year. Huesca, Cadiz, and Elche have been promoted from the second division and will ply their trade in the top-flight Spanish club competition in the upcoming season. The much-awaited two-legged El Clasico is scheduled on 25 October and 11 April.
Despite the novelty and the excitement around the fresh season, the 2020-21 edition of LaLiga looks primed to be dominated by the chatter on the future of Messi. Jose, though, is not complaining. “There was life before Messi, and there will be life after him. We must savour every bit of Lionel Messi on the football pitch,” he concluded.
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