Football fans largely amusing themselves with transfer gossip about players were sent into a tailspin on Thursday night when news broke about the potential exit of Lionel Messi from FC Barcelona.
Social media groups of fans literally exploded in the wake of what could be perceived as one of the most momentous developments in the football world in recent times. Though it was initially written off as a rumour, the Club shortly confirmed in an official statement that Messi might indeed leave owing to “financial and structural obstacles”.
For FC Barcelona fans in Kerala, it seemed like a dream turning into a nightmare as their association, Cules of Kerala, was officially recognised by the Catalan giants only last month. “Fans are in deep shock and can hardly believe it as it was least expected. People like me were drawn to the club in the first place by Messi though the loyalty towards the club has outgrown since then,” said Anjan Kumar, an ardent fan.
Nishad Razaq, State president of Cules of Kerala, could hardly sleep for a couple of hours as he was kept awake by anxious fans on social media. “It (Messi’s departure) will definitely leave a small dent in the fan base as he has been the club’s icon for so long. But it may be sorted out as informed sources observe that it could be a pressure tactic by the club to force LaLiga, the top division in Spanish football, to relax the strict wage regulations to retain Messi in the league and thereby its brand value,” he said.
On social media, it rained memes, as Barca fans were not exactly the favourite of rival fans. A particularly viral one said that 99% of Barcelona fans were now free agents, hinting that the majority of the club’s fans could switch allegiance with Messi. (Free agent in footballing parlance means a player who has run out of contract with his current team and is free to join another club.) The more optimistic of rival fans came up with photoshopped images of Messi in their team’s jersey.
Then there were more reasonable football fans like Rahul Babu, an avowed Manchester United fan, who perfectly summed up the influence of Messi on FC Barcelona. “I don’t remember seeing a Barcelona fan’s jersey without Messi's name on the back for a long time,” he said.