Sun, 20 Sep 2020

Messi, at 33, knows his end is near but he will choose when it comes. Others may not be so lucky, with Pique and Luis Suarez also 33 and Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba 31.

All of them have played a part in Barca's golden era but that era feels a long time ago now and if this team is to regenerate, brave decisions will have to be made.

Frenkie de Jong, Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig are the future, smothered this season by the failures of those ahead of them and perhaps ready to be trusted to lead.

If it's the end of an era for Barcelona, it is for Spain too. The national team may have long been overtaken but Messi kept Barca challenging while the Champions League became the kingdom of Real Madrid.

Not anymore, this the first year since 2007 that the semi-finals will be without a Spanish club, and the first since 2005 without either Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Who will lead the Barca revolution remains to be seen, with Xavi Hernandez, Mauricio Pochettino and Ronald Koeman all sufficiently put off that they rejected the chance in January. Will they be any keener now?

Barcelona will not have the money to make big additions, meaning they may have to look within.

But that would be a long-term project, which the club cannot guarantee either given their presidential elections are due in 2021. A new regime could well bring a new coach too.

A year might even feel like a long time for the current president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who would not rule out the elections being brought forward on Friday.

"Today was a disaster," he said. "Some decisions we had already thought to take and others we will think about in the next few days."

Since 2014, his board have stumbled from blunder to blunder, all the while alienating the dressing room and driving this period of chaos and decline.

It began with Neymar leaving and never being replaced, the frantic attempts to bring him back then failing because the funds had been squandered elsewhere.

And it ended with a public humiliation that Messi saw coming. It had been coming for a long time.

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