Lionel Messi has left a glaring hole at Barcelona and it will prove to be an extremely difficult void to fill as former team-mate Victor Sanchez discussed the shock and tearful Camp Nou exit.
Messi had been tipped to re-sign at Barcelona but the LaLiga club’s dire financial situation meant they could not bring their greatest ever player back under the league’s salary restrictions, paving the way for a blockbuster switch to Ligue 1 powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain.
Instead of extending his time at Barca, dating back to 2000 during his youth, Messi now forms a frightening attack alongside old friend Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in Paris.
Sanchez played alongside Messi in Barca, where he emerged from the club’s youth system in 2005 and made his first-team debut in 2008 before joining and captaining rivals Espanyol, and he spoke to Stats Perform about the six-time Ballon d’Or winner’s stunning departure.
“I was shocked, but everyone too because after last year when he wanted to leave, and he finally didn’t, I looked like he would end his career at Barcelona,” said Sanchez, who now plays for Western United in Australia.
“So, leaving this year and joining PSG, it is tough to understand on his side, but also on the Barcelona side. I have spoken with former team-mates of his and they think same as me: they thought it was done and he would continue playing for Barca, and everything changed at the very last moment.
“We won’t know why it did not happen, but it is a big shame for Barcelona and for Spanish football. On the other hand, it is a big joy for French football and PSG as I think they are building a spectacular team.”
Messi played 778 games for Barcelona in all competitions, scoring 672 goals and providing 265 assists across those games. That amounts to 937 goal involvements during his Barca career, which began as a 17-year-old.
Messi’s goals for Barca were scored against 82 different teams. Sevilla were his favourite opponent, finding the net against them 38 times in 43 appearances.
The 34-year-old’s most prolific season as a Barcelona player was in 2011-12 when scoring a remarkable 73 goals in all competitions, as well as providing a further 28 assists, setting a personal record in both categories.
Messi netted 79 goals for his club across the calendar year in 2012, which is a record amount by a single player. His next most prolific year was 2010 when registering 58 times.
He is the only player to have scored 10 or more goals in LaLiga in 15 consecutive seasons.
Messi is the all-time LaLiga top scorer with 474 goals and is the second-highest scorer ever in Europe’s top five leagues behind Cristiano Ronaldo (476), while he scored in 21 consecutive LaLiga games between November 2012 and May 2013 – a record for a player in the competition’s history.
“It is very tough to replace Messi. You get a player like this every 20-30-40 years,” Sanchez said before Barca’s season-opening 4-2 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday. “It is so hard. However, Barca’s academy works in the same way with every team, so they can get three-four-five players and build a strong team who can win titles and bid for all, something difficult right now in Barcelona.
“It is the same what happened with [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi… probably will happen with [Sergio] Busquets too. It is not easy to replace them with other players because they have been the best in their position.
“Barcelona will get other good players, but it won’t be easy to get someone like Messi who has given that much to the team.”
Under the leadership of Pep Guardiola, Sanchez was part of the star-studded Barca squad that won the Champions League, LaLiga and Copa del Rey in 2008-09 – playing alongside Messi as well as Thierry Henry, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Yaya Toure, Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique and Samuel Eto’o.
“I read a lot of comments when I was younger,” Sanchez said when asked if he remembered some of the reaction and comments to Messi’s emergence at Barca. “I am the same age as Messi, and I read a lot about a player of 16-17 who was superb in the academy. The thing is when I reached the first team, he was playing for three years in the first team.
“I was 20-21 at that time and he was already a star in the first team. However, it is true there were comments on a player in the second team who was going to be a big player and he has become it.
“You could see he was different since he was a child. As you see in others, you could also see on him.”
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