Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has said Barcelona are in for a difficult period when Lionel Messi leaves the club.
Guardiola managed Messi at the Camp Nou between 2008 and 2012, and he believes Barca will struggle in a similar manner to Real Madrid following Cristiano Ronaldo's departure in 2018.
The coach spoke to Post United about Madrid's difficulties in the wake of Ronaldo's exit, saying (h/t Goal):
"It is inevitable; these players are so important.
"When Messi leaves Barca, they will need some time to re-adjust. It is inevitable.
"These guys score 40 or 50 goals a season."
Ronaldo spent nine seasons at Real Madrid. He scored 450 goals—an average of 50 per campaign—and also laid on 131 assists.
Last season, after he left for Juventus, Real finished third in La Liga having scored just 63 goals, down from 94 in Ronaldo's final campaign. They also exited the UEFA Champions League—which they had won in four of the previous five seasons—in the round of 16 at the hands of Ajax.
Messi has been similarly influential at Barcelona since he came through the club's academy, La Masia.
The Argentinian has played 711 times for the club and contributed 622 goals and 256 assists along the way. Since the 2009-10 season, he has scored between 41 and 73 goals in all competitions in each campaign.
This season, despite missing five of Barca's 22 La Liga matches through injury, he is still the Spanish top flight's leading scorer and creator:
The 32-year-old has spent his entire career at the Camp Nou, but his future will be a source of major concern for the club. His deal expires in 2021, and he also "has a clause in his contract which enables him to unilaterally walk away for free" this summer, per the Guardian's Sid Lowe.
On Tuesday, Messi became embroiled in a public row with Barca sporting director and former team-mate Eric Abidal after the Frenchman said some players did not put in enough work under Ernesto Valverde, who was sacked as manager in January:
Lionel Messi hits back at Eric Abidal after he implied that some players weren't performing under Ernesto Valverde 😳 🗣 Messi: "I honestly don't like to do this kind of thing but I think everyone has to be responsible for their job and take responsibility for their decisions." https://t.co/ilG7htQK1J
Barca had lined up Neymar to be Messi's heir at the Camp Nou, but his exit to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 scuppered those plans. Since then, they haven't managed to successfully replace the Brazilian.
They used his transfer to fund moves for Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, but the former is on loan at Bayern Munich after failing to impress, and the latter has been beset by injury problems:
Their struggles in replacing Neymar don't particularly inspire confidence they can bring in the right players to move on from Messi, whom the team has become increasingly dependent on over the years.
Barca have become particularly reliant on him in recent seasons as key players like Neymar, Xavi and Andres Iniesta moved on. Messi deserves immense credit for the Catalan giants' four La Liga titles in the past five seasons.
With Messi approaching his twilight years, Barca should be surrounding him with personnel who can ease his burden and smooth a difficult transition away from him as much as possible.
As things stand, the club has failed to that and may pay a heavy price in the years ahead.