“The first to cry loses” – Watching Messi say goodbye from Spain

How do you react when watching your club’s most iconic player unwilling forced to leave? Sofía Villegas Navarro shares her emotional experience from a couch in Gran Canaria.

(Photo Credit – Eric Alonso/Getty Images)

A week ago, the sport of football was stunned. ‘Lionel Messi is leaving FCBarcelona’. The headline flooded news outlets across the globe. La Liga Fair Play rules had made it impossible for the Argentinian to remain at club he had grown up at. The club he had given his all to. The Catalan club could not afford for their star to stay. No ‘what ifs’ were possible. One of the most iconic relationships in football unwillingly forced into a devastating break-up.

Three days later, Messi spoke one last time with the Barça badge as his backdrop. 

At 10:50 AM, my family sat around the TV, anxiously waiting for the conference we never really thought was going to happen. It is the kind of thing you don’t actually believe will come true. Even my mum, who honestly cannot name more than two football teams, has her eyes fixed on the black and blue screen, waiting patiently. 

At 10:55 AM, FCBarcelona players start coming through to the room. From newcomers like Ansu Fati, who only had the chance to share changing rooms with Mesi for a couple of months.  To veterans like Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba, with whom Messi has played for over a decade.  Finally, old comrades filtered in, such as Xavi Hernandez, who watched him grow into the football legend Messi is today. 

Long gone are the days were the Iniesta-Xavi-Messi trio dominated Europe.

Then, the ‘incomparable’ comes. I turn my head around to my uncle and, I whisper into his ear, ‘the first to cry loses’. Messi walks in, shattered, crushed, blatantly upset. He cannot face his audience. He is unable to face his club, his home. The grounds where he has won no less than 35 titles and scored over 650 goals. The grounds where he has been hoisted by his team and hailed by his fans. The grounds that have watched him grow and become part of football history. The grounds where he will be forever remembered. Barça’s grounds. His grounds.

La Remontada – a night almost as magical as Messi himself. (Photo Credit – LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)

And as tears run down the cheeks of the greatest footballer ever, I can only follow suit. The first to cry loses – how quickly I lost.

‘The truth is I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to speak’, the Blaugrana player mumbles between sniffs. He isn’t retiring from football, but it sure feels as if he is. Why? Well, as he later said, he deserved a different goodbye. He deserved to be cheered by a full Camp Nou, with smiles in every spectator as they screamed on top of their lungs, ‘MESSSSSIIIIIIIII’. He deserved to be lifted out by his teammates. He deserved to leave doing what he does best, playing football. Scoring one last goal. Lifting his arms in the sky, pointing towards the infinite. 

After, 21 years and 772 appearances, a press conference is how the six-time Ballon d’Or winner gives up his number 10. It feels wrong. It seems wrong. It is wrong. 

He reminisces about his stories in front of los clues, the Barcelona fans. I do so too. I can’t help but think about THE goal. 18th April 2007. Copa del Rey semi-final against Getafe. The then 19-year-old Argentinian gets the ball in Barça’s half. In 12 seconds, he runs 55 yards, glides past six opponents and scores. Historic. Unforgettable. A work of art. We all knew, in that moment, he was one of a kind

Then, La Remontada comes to the forefront of my mind. Messi at the edge of the pitch with his shirt in his hands, static, facing his followers. A moment frozen in time. A king speaking to his kingdom. A lion in his savannah. I get goosebumps as I picture it. 

The press conference finishes, and we all feel a void that nobody speaks about. Reality hits. Number 10 has left the building, and it is not a drill. He will wear another jersey. He will be cheered on by another team. He’s gone. And I, and all other Barcelona fans, have nothing else to say but thank you. It’s been a pleasure watching you play captain. 

As you well said, La Pulga, it is not a goodbye, but a see you soon.

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