Barcelona finished second in LaLiga – five points behind Real Madrid – were knocked out of the Copa del Rey by Athletic Bilbao and were stunned 8-2 in the Champions League quarterfinal by Bayern Munich.
In other words, they ended the 2019/20 season without a trophy.
And just when the culés (buttocks in Catalan, as the Barcelona fans are known) thought things could not get worse, they did.
On Tuesday, Barça officials confirmed reports that Lionel Messi had written to the club asking to be allowed to leave, despite having a contract until next year.
That in itself is no big deal, of course, and it presumably happens thousands of times every season that players leave. But Messi is not just any player.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner joined the Catalan club in 2001, aged 14. He has won everything there is to win with the club, including 10 LaLiga, four Champions League and three Club World Cup titles.
Aged 33, Messi is nearing the end of his incredible career, and Barça fans and officials must have thought that the Argentine international would finish his playing days with the Catalan giants.
But his playing days are not over, yet Barcelona fans might need to come to terms with life without Messi – irrespective of when his contract expires.
In 2017, when he extended his contract, the club inserted a €700 million (R13.9 billion) buyout clause. With that kind of money it’s unlikely, and probably impossible, that a club will trigger the buyout clause. Even for a player of Messi’s calibre.
But that does not automatically mean that Messi will be with Barcelona when the new season starts.
The player has asked to be released on a free clearance, which, given his contribution to Barcelona’s success since he debuted as a 16-year-old in a friendly against Porto in 2003, is not unreasonable.
But it is also not unreasonable for Barcelona to want to make at least some money if they have to let him go – more so as he will most likely go to a club that is a direct Champions League competitor.
Messi has said that a clause in his contract allows him to leave on a free clearance now, but Barça have said he should have informed them in June of his intentions to activate the clause.
What is certain, though, is that he will be able to leave as a free agent at the end of next season, which does not leave Barcelona much time to either sell him or extend his contract beyond next year.
Life without Messi is something that Barcelona fans should have been contemplating for a while already, given that he mentioned retirement at the Ballon d’Or awards last year.
Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu was quick to dispel Messi’s imminent departure.
“Leo’s got a long time left,” Bartomeu said at the time.
The question is, where will he be spending that time?
There is no doubt that there is no club in the world that would not jump at the opportunity to sign Messi.
Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus and even Champions League winners Bayern Munich have been named as “possibles”, though none of them would be in a position to afford the €700 million buyout fee.
But before he signs for another club, there needs to be some agreement between Messi and Barcelona on whether he is allowed to leave for free or not.
And if the club insists that he should stay, it could well be that both parties have their next meeting in court.
New manager Ronald Koeman has said that he wants Messi to stay, which is not surprising, though he reportedly also told the Argentine international that his days of having privileges were over.
There could, however, be a silver lining for Barcelona, as the last time the club went without a trophy was in 2014. The very next season, they went on to win LaLiga, Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the Uefa Super Cup and the Fifa Club World Cup.
But, without Messi, that seems like a lot to ask.