By Peter Auf der Heyde
When Lionel Messi announced in the first week of September that he would – after all – remain with Barcelona for the forthcoming season, a collective sigh of relief could be heard all over Spain. Messi, of course, is not just any player.
A six-time Ballon d’Or winner, the Argentine forward is arguably the greatest player the world has ever seen, or certainly ranks amongst the best.
It is thus not surprising that when he wrote a letter to Barcelona requesting a clearance, it was not only his club that was stunned, the whole La Liga was shocked.
But on Friday, when the 2020/21 La Liga season kicks off, Messi will still be with Barcelona and, as he said in an interview, give his all for the club.
“I will do my best to fight for all the objectives and hopefully I can dedicate victories to all those people who accompany us and their families, to be able to dedicate the best to those people who are having a bad time and that we can overcome once and for all we can overcome this virus and return to normality."
His first opportunity of showing his best will, however, only come three weeks into the new season as Barcelona’s first two games were postponed to give the club time extra time to prepare after participating in the recent European cup competition finals.
Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla will start their campaign in the second week.
In the absence of last season’s top four, much of the focus of the opening matchday will be geared towards last season’s surprise team Granada. Diego Martinez’ side finished a remarkable seventh in the league and have the honour to open proceedings this season against Athletic Bilbao.
The other main attractions of the first matchday are the games between Valladolid and Real Sociedad and Villarreal and newly promoted Huesca, both of which are taking place on Sunday.
Sociedad and Villarreal last season came closest to challenging the top four and although neither of the clubs have invested heavily in new players, both have current Spanish internationals Mikel Merino and Paul Torres in their respective teams. Both players featured in Spain’s 4-0 victory against Ukraine in the Nations League and are now looking forward to a successful domestic season.
Football fans throughout Africa will be able to watch these – and other La Liga matches live and in HD on the StarTimes channels.
Peter Auf der Heyde
Peter Auf der Heyde is an award-winning football journalist and author, who covers the big European leagues. As a South African by birth, he is particularly interested in the African connection within European football and has covered 12 consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments live. Formerly head of sport at the English service of the German Press Association, he is one of the leading Bundesliga experts.
Auf der Heyde played professionally for Bosmont Chelsea in the South African top flight and now spends his time migrating between South Africa, Germany and the UK.