The group of people had formed a line and were eagerly waiting to get their photos taken with Lionel Messi — except these weren’t fans, but Barcelona teammates.
Members of the squad took turns posing with Messi and the Copa del Rey cup, which Barcelona had just won after defeating Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in the final on Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, Messi was the star of the show. Although this match was perhaps Frenkie de Jong’s breakthrough performance in a Barcelona jersey — for the first time genuinely resembling the star Barcelona bought from Ajax in 2019 — this game will be remembered for Barcelona’s third goal, Messi’s first.
Messi started deep inside his half, exchanging passes with Sergio Dest before bursting forward and exchanging passes with De Jong further up the pitch.
De Jong’s return pass found Messi inside the penalty area, where the Argentine skipped between two Bilbao defenders and slotted the ball into the bottom corner with ease.
It was the kind of brilliance that fans have come to expect from the diminutive No. 10, and it brought back memories of Messi’s opening goal in the 2015 Copa de Rey final, which was also against Bilbao and generally regarded as one of his best ever.
Barcelona’s rivals must be sick of seeing the Catalans and their captain on Saturday. Bilbao hasn’t won a major trophy in a long time.
Barcelona’s rivals must be sick of seeing the Catalans and their captain on Saturday. Bilbao has now lost six Copa del Rey finals since its last major trophy in 1984. Barcelona has been the victim of four of those final defeats, with Messi scoring in each of them.
To make matters worse, Bilbao has now missed two Copa del Rey finals in two weeks as a result of this loss. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 competition final were postponed and only took place a fortnight ago, with Bilbao losing 1-0 to Basque rival Real Sociedad.
Messi won his 35th trophy with Barcelona, but it may also be his last. Messi stated publicly before the season began that he had decided to leave Barcelona “all year,” and it remains to be seen if the team’s recent revival has swayed his opinion.
Saturday’s triumph was head coach Ronald Koeman’s first trophy since taking the job in the summer, and it was a just reward for the team’s steady and incremental progress throughout the season.
Barcelona has closed the gap on La Liga leader Atletico Madrid to only one point, with Real Madrid a further point behind, meaning Koeman and Messi has one more match to play.
As a result of these gains, Barcelona has closed the gap on La Liga leader Atletico Madrid to only one point, with Real Madrid trailing by another point, giving Koeman and Messi a better chance of winning a trophy before the end of the season.
However, domestic success may not be enough to satisfy the hunger of a player who hasn’t won the Champions League since 2015, and Barcelona’s 5-2 aggregate thrashing at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain this season demonstrated once again how far behind Europe’s elite.
If it was his last game or not, everyone could see how much this title meant to Lionel Messi, Barcelona’s first since 2019. As he hoisted the trophy over his head, his face was filled with pure, sincere joy.
“It is very special to be captain of this team where I have spent my whole life,” Messi said after the game. “And very special to be able to lift the cup.”