How it ended in controversy for Barca's stars as Messi pushes for exit

Ronaldinho didn’t fit into Guardiola’s new era, Luis Figo shocked fans by joining arch rivals Real Madrid and Rivaldo was accused of lacking commitment… how it has ended in controversy for Barcelona’s biggest stars as Lionel Messi pushes for exit

  • Lionel Messi has informed Barcelona of his intention to leave after 19 years  
  • Messi’s desire to walk out has sent shockwaves through European football
  • Should he leave, he’d join a list of star players whose time ended in controversy  

There can be no doubt that Lionel Messi’s decision to notify Barcelona of his intention to leave has rocked the club he has been for almost 20 years.

Messi’s influence at Barcelona has grown over the years to the point where his voice is one of the loudest and most authoritative at Nou Camp.

Perhaps even louder than club president Josep Maria Bartomeu who has the task of somehow trying to convince him Barcelona is where he should remain for the coming season.

But this situation is nothing new for Barcelona – an institution that claims to be more than a club. 

Star names have come and gone before – and here Sportsmail takes a look back at those who left in more controversial circumstances than others.  

Lionel Messi has informed Barcelona of his desire to leave the club after almost 20 years


In 1999, Rivaldo was the world’s best player. He had just won the Ballon d’Or and was Barcelona’s most dangerous attacker.

And, similar to Messi, he wasn’t shy when it came to voicing his opinion. It didn’t go the way he hoped when he chose to confront typically arrogant and stubborn manager Louis van Gaal over where he felt his best position on the pitch was.

Rivaldo told Van Gaal he thought he would perform at his best when played behind striker Patrick Kluivert and not on the left wing where he had been deployed.

Rivaldo was the best player in the world when he first fell out with manager Louis van Gaal 

The move backfired spectacularly with Van Gaal opting to bench the Brazilian. The Spanish press came out in support of the player and Rivaldo made his way back into the side. The decision ultimately cost Van Gaal his job. Van Gaal left the club with a parting shot at the press. ‘Friends of the press, I am leaving. Congratulations,’ he told the media.

But when Van Gaal returned to Barcelona in 2002 things would turn out rather different than three years prior. Van Gaal, this time with more power than before, chose to release Rivaldo, who had one year left on his contract, despite him having won the World Cup with Brazil only months before.

Rivaldo said: ‘Van Gaal is the main cause of my departure. I don’t like Van Gaal, and I am sure that he doesn’t like me, either.’

Van Gaal said Rivaldo’s lack of commitment was why he chose to get rid. Indeed, he was made to look rather daft when Rivaldo joined AC Milan and subsequently won the Champions League while he was sacked in the January of the 2002-03 season.

Diego Maradona

Maradona, much like Messi, was a genius on the pitch and a player well suited to Barcelona’s attractive and exhilarating style of play.

Team-mate Lobo Carrasco once said that Maradona ‘had complete mastery of the ball’. Carrasco added: ‘I remember our early training sessions with him: the rest of the team were so amazed that they just stood and watched him. We all thought ourselves privileged to be witnesses of his genius.’

To watch Barcelona with Maradona playing was to witness a weekly masterclass. In June 1983 he managed to do something that no Barcelona player had done before: get applauded by Real Madrid supporters inside Santiago Bernabeu as a player in red and blue. 

Diego Maradona’s genius shone through at Barcelona before it all ended in chaos

Maradona brought everyone to their feet when he dribbled past Real goalkeeper Agustin and managed to trap the ball as defender Juan Jose came sliding in – crashing into the post as he did – before shooting into an open net.

But as with much of Maradona’s career, his genius was often backed up with chaos and an uncontrollable nature that would sooner or later hit him hard.

Maradona’s time at Barcelona came to an abrupt halt at the end of the 1983-84 season. Barcelona were playing Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final in Madrid and Maradona was the target of racist abuse. Bilbao fans chanted insults about Maradona’s father’s North American background. 

Maradona was also targeted on the pitch. First by Goikoetxea, whose rough tackle brought him to the ground, and when he was confronted by Bilbao’s Miguel Sola at full-time after Barcelona had lost 1-0.

Maradona finally reacted, his actions, including headbutting Sola, sparked a brawl on the pitch.

Spanish king Juan Carlos was in attendance along with 100,000 others while millions more watched on television.

Having fallen out with club president Josep Lluis Nunez previously, the brawl was to be the final straw and Maradona was sold to Napoli.

Maradona also fell out with club president Josep Lluis Nunez and was sold to Napoli in 1984


The official line from Ronaldinho over his departure from Barcelona in 2008 after five years at the club was that he felt he was no longer at the peak of his powers.

Pep Guardiola had taken charge and Ronaldinho no longer felt capable of performing at the level expected of him.

Of course, the numbers don’t lie. In his last season before Guardiola took the job, Ronaldinho scored only nine goals in 29 games. In the two years prior to that he had managed 24 in 49 and 26 in 45. ‘I was the one who decided to leave Barcelona in 2008, not Pep Guardiola,’ Ronaldinho has said.

But many still point to Ronaldinho’s lifestyle away from the pitch and Guardiola’s strict control over his players as to why he departed Barcelona.

Ronaldinho said he left Barcelona on his own accord but other accounts suggest differently

Come the end of the 2005-06 campaign, Ronaldinho had won all of the major international and club trophies available. From the Copa America in 1999 to the World Cup in 2002 and the Champions League in 2006. In 2005 he also won the Ballon d’Or.

But as much as his footballing talent won him countless plaudits, his appetite for smoking and drinking meant Barcelona kept a close eye on him.

The club assigned a team to keep tabs on the players and Ronaldinho’s behaviour – along with that of Deco – became a major concern.

There were also reports that Ronaldinho was encouraging Messi – then starting to break into the first team – to attend his late-night parties. True or false, Ronaldinho’s name and reputation suffered.

Guardiola took over in 2008 and wanted to change the culture of the dressing room – a culture that former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder Alexander Hleb believes Ronaldinho couldn’t be part of.

Hlek, who was signed by Guardiola in the summer of 2008 before Ronaldinho and Deco were sold, said: ‘Ronaldinho and Deco came to training drunk. ‘That’s why Ronaldinho and Deco were sold. Because they were afraid that they would bring down Lionel Messi.’

One of Pep Guardiola’s tasks when taking the Barcelona job was to keep Lionel Messi focused

Luis Figo

About as controversial as it gets for those who follow Barcelona. A player leaving to join bitter rivals Real Madrid. Not only that but a player who was adored and worshipped by the Barcelona supporters every time he stepped foot on the Nou Camp pitch.

The reaction to Luis Figo leaving Barcelona for Real Madrid in July 2000 was volatile and nasty.

Francesc Arnau, who played in goal for Barcelona in the same team as Figo, recalled to Bleacher Report: ‘He surprised us all.’

Luis Figo shocked Barcelona fans when he made the move to arch rivals Real Madrid in 2000

The situation was made worse by Figo having rubbished claims in the press that he had signed a pre-contract agreement with Real only weeks before. He even posed for a picture in Spanish publication Sport wearing a Barcelona shirt while he called the previous reports lies.

The city of Barcelona reacted angrily as did new club president Joan Gaspart, who had pledged in his manifesto to keep Figo at the club. 

Describing the move as ‘immoral’, Gaspart added: ‘I’ll not forget this. Whoever is responsible for this will pay for it. We’ll see how and when. Figo gave me the impression this morning that he wanted to do two things – make more money and stay with Barcelona. He thinks money can do everything in this life.’

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