Richard Buxton: Barca’s battles could drive Lionel Messi away
Infighting that led to 6 directors resigning, plus his future, could be the tipping point for the talisman
In life, Johan Cruyff foresaw Barcelona's current problems long before they began to manifest.
Never short of sage advice on the Beautiful Game, the late godfather of tiki taka also routinely conjured up quotes which are now eerily prophetic of his former employers' abject failings.
"The biggest problem at Barca is the club itself - it's all about politics," Cruyff famously declared.
He lamented their "circus of executives" that "use sentiment for their own ends and are only ever driving the club into the ground. But in the end, they unmask themselves".
Football may remain in lockdown due to coronavirus, but the Nou Camp's chaos continues. The infighting that had raged in Catalonia for months is now playing out on the global stage.
Six directors have already resigned in protest at Josep Maria Bartomeu's reign while accusations are flying thick and fast against Barcelona's beleaguered president, including from within the club's own dressing room.
Through it all, Lionel Messi has become a focal point.
In the past four months alone, the Argentina international has spent more time fighting for the players' corner against their club's hierachy than actually laying siege to opposing defences.
His role as both captain and talisman in this stand-off is greater than any past on-field exploits.
The onus falls on him to speak for the Spanish champions' squad because no other player's name carries more resonance.
When the Ballon d'Or holder talks, the whole world listens.
A decree from Messi sees Barcelona's problems automatically become everyone else's business.
By nature, he is still a reserved and somewhat shy figure. Public pronouncements are rare.
Yet the ongoing squabbles have forced him to take the stand for a greater good.
Cruyff once said: "Being critical is always something positive, because you are pointing out things that need improvement."
Unwittingly, Messi is upholding his values more than most at the Nou Camp.
Only a select few in Barcelona's rich history - including Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol - have been afforded the luxury now afforded to him. Should he so wish, Messi has the option to leave Barcelona for nothing at the end of every season.
The assumption remains that he never will.
Messi has personally refused to entertain the notion of departing. Earlier this month, he shot down speculation of moves to Inter Milan and his boyhood team Newell's Old Boys as "fake news".
Sooner or later, however, that position on his long-term future risks reaching a tipping point.
If that happens, there will be no shortage of suitors within Europe's elite although they would face the unenviable balancing act of matching, or even improving upon, his current £57.2 million (S$101.7m) annual salary while staying inside Uefa's strict Financial Fair Play guidelines.
So intertwined is Messi's life with Barcelona, both as a club and a city, that a parting of ways still appears unlikely.
But it cannot be taken for granted.
Every player has an upper limit and there is a genuine danger that his patience will be snapped by the widespread squabbling.
Few would begrudge the 32-year-old for wanting to see out the final years of his time at the top in quieter surroundings, far away from the current battle lines and internal politicking.
Barcelona only realised what they had lost after Cruyff's untimely death in 2016.
Messi's importance, similarly, will finally dawn on them when he is no longer gracing the Nou Camp.
Unless they finally get their house in order, that could be sooner than they first anticipated.