In 17 seasons with Lionel Messi in the team, Barcelona reached at least the last-16 of the Champions League every time.
In two seasons without him they have failed to get out of the group. On the morning after their latest early exit one question was unavoidable – is the second coming the answer?
There were chants of ‘Messi! Messi!’ at the Camp Nou on Wednesday night but they were from sarcastic Bayern fans in the away section teasing the Barcelona supporters who had stayed to the bitter end as their team lost to the Germans again.
Any operation to bring him back would be problematic. Paris Saint-Germain want Messi to sign for another year until 2024, Barcelona could only afford him if big earners Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba all leave, and even then they would probably need to win the Europa League to make up for the Champions League prize money shortfall to help pay his albeit reduced wages.
If it can be done, the next question would be: will it be universally embraced as a good thing?
Barcelona supporters are split between those that want him back to lead the side once more and those that doubt him returning next summer, aged 36, would really solve anything.
One thing is clear – he was never the problem before.
In Messi’s final seasons at Barcelona the idea was peddled that he was the reason for the team’s failings. The argument went that Barça had to carry him when they didn’t have the ball and that you can’t compete in Europe with 10 men.
It doesn’t seem to be affecting Paris Saint-Germain. The Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe attack has scored 80 per cent of the team’s goals, and Messi has scored 11 and set up 10 this season.
Messi left for PSG to extend his Champions League story and he now has 129 goals in the competition, just 11 short of Cristiano Ronaldo’s record.
It’s true that Messi was on the pitch when Barcelona were beaten 8-2 by Bayern in Lisbon in 2020 but that was in the quarter-finals: what the club wouldn’t do for that now and the prize money it would bring.
The biggest argument for not bringing Messi back is that for all the brilliance that he brings he can’t play at right-back where Barcelona still have a massive hole having not done enough to sign Cesar Azpilicueta in the summer.