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At first there was silence, both in Barcelona players’ WhatsApp group, and on social media. But as the shock began to fade, the tributes and goodbyes eventually came.

This was real, this was happening. Former captain Carles Puyol was the first, thanking Lionel Messi for everything he has given the club. Then the current squad started to post.

“I was lucky enough to be there to watch your first goal in 2005 against Albacete at Camp Nou, and I never thought one day we would be so close that we could understand each other just with a look,” wrote Jordi Alba.

“Eternally grateful,” added Sergi Roberto. “Thank you for all the moments you have helped me live, and all Barca fans, for all the joys you have given us, all the goals you have scored.”

While few could believe Messi’s time at Barcelona, 21 years, had ended, that he would not be joining his team-mates for training, or get the goodbye he deserved, the club now have to look forward, and quickly.

How Barcelona would cope without Messi has been a question often pondered in the past few years, especially as the dependence on him has increased after Neymar’s departure.

With the Argentine poised to join his former team-mate in Paris, Barcelona have to get used to life without their greatest legend, suddenly absent when it seemed he was ready to stay for two more years.

Of course, any time Barcelona struggle to score the natural reaction will be to say they badly miss Messi, but in the medium to long-term there are two ways this can go, one positive and one negative.

There have long been suspicions that Messi’s presence can inhibit his teammates, nervous playing alongside one of the game’s biggest legends. Antoine Griezmann, for one, has seemed to struggle alongside Messi, and, along with Philippe Coutinho, the three players often wanted to operate in similar spaces, meaning Barcelona were narrow and spaces were impossibly tight.

Similarly, Messi’s general inability to effectively press also means Barcelona can’t operate in a system reliant on that, particularly when Luis Suarez was also at the club, which can now change, although Memphis Depay will have to take on more defensive responsibility than he might like.

The system has long fitted around Messi at Barcelona, accounting for his tendency to wander and drop deep for the ball, whereas now Ronald Koeman is free to play with whatever structure he likes, and no player will be too powerful to adhere to it.

“No player is bigger than the club,” said president Joan Laporta, but for the last decade, Messi was.

There were worries about Memphis’s risk-taking style but now he is free to be the team’s creative leader, while Griezmann can play in the second striker role he has long desired.

Messi’s departure is also good news for Barcelona’s younger forwards and playmakers, with Alex Collado, Yusuf Demir and Riqui Puig potential beneficiaries. Ansu Fati is returning from injury, Kun Aguero can add goals if fit and Ousmane Dembele will be a welcome winter arrival after his injury has healed.

Barcelona have long needed a rebuild and it has been hard to do that with Messi still the key figure at 34 years old. The midfield is still in good hands with Frenkie de Jong, Pedri and Sergio Busquets, while youngsters Gavi and Nico Gonzalez are progressing nicely.

Barcelona have the base to create an exciting new project, no longer handcuffed by Messi’s huge wages, which would have remained eye-watering even after agreeing a 50 per cent paycut. That’s the way things could work out for Barcelona in Messi’s absence.

But things could shift another way, too. There is the potential for the club to self-destruct. Laporta still has to make cuts, get high-earning players like Samuel Umtiti and Miralem Pjanic out, and if he can’t, they could appear in Koeman’s squads.

Fans, allowed back to fill a small percentage of Camp Nou at the start of the season, may turn on players who did not accept wage cuts, seeing them as part of the reason Messi had to leave.

Losing Messi is a huge emotional blow to the squad, the club and the supporters and it would be easy for Barcelona to sink further into depression, especially if he joins their biggest rivals outside of Spain.

They had already fallen out of the European elite and now could be left further adrift. Financially the club could further suffer, with sponsorship deals likely to decrease in value going forward, because brands know their name won’t be proudly displayed on the Argentine’s chest or sleeve.

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There are a lot of sporting unknowns heading into the season, with Busquets and Gerard Pique in their final years and declining, Eric Garcia and Emerson largely untested at Champions League level, and Koeman now needing to make a new plan which doesn’t include the best player in the world.

“Psychologically we know that when he is there we are stronger but we cannot allow his absence to affect us,” said Gerard Pique, back in 2018 when Messi fractured his arm and was out for a month.

Now he is gone forever, but that is the same mindset Barcelona must keep to survive Messi’s departure.