With every birthday observed by Lionel Messi, an existential crisis creeps nearer for Barcelona. What will the Catalan club do when their greatest ever player, possibly the greatest ever player in the history of the sport, finally calls it a day? It’s a future that nobody at Camp Nou wants to comprehend, but with Messi now into his 30s the horizon is approaching.
This is something that is frequently discussed among the Catalan press, and in the stands of Camp Nou. When Philippe Coutinho arrived from Liverpool last season, maybe believed it was a sign that Barcelona were already preparing for a time when Messi’s forces might fade. Others saw Coutinho as an Andres Iniesta replacement, though.
However, Barcelona will soon have another key figure to replace and there has been very little chat about that. Luis Suarez is now 32 years old and there have been signs of decline in his game of late. The Uruguayan has just one goal in his last eight appearances and has yet to score in the Champions League this season.
Of course, there will be those who argue that this is typical of Suarez. He is a streaky player and thrives on momentum. He will, at some point, regain his form before the end of the season and help Barcelona to yet another Liga title and maybe even their first Champions League title in four years. That argument is perfectly feasible.
But this is about more than just form. A yard of pace has disappeared from Suarez’s game. His touch has deserted him in recent months and injuries are becoming more frequent. What’s more, the 32-year-old is taking longer and longer to regain match sharpness whenever he returns from an injury. There have been times when he has even looked slightly overweight.
Barcelona must come up with a succession plan now. They seemingly had one when Antoine Griezmann was a target. The Frenchman would have been the perfect replacement for Suarez in the long term. However, Barca dropped their interest in Griezmann and haven’t been strongly linked with another striker of his type since. Replacing Messi might well prove impossible. Suarez, however, can be compensated for. On the basis of recent activity, though, Barca don’t have a plan for when their Uruguayan striker either fades or retires.
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