KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Ten months after Leo Messi said he was leaving Barcelona, the boot is on the other foot. This time it is the club announcing the 34-year-old Argentinian is no longer their player.
Significantly, with many more twists and turns ahead, Barcelona are throwing the blame at the Spanish league’s post-pandemic regulations on wages and contracts. Inevitable transfer speculation ignores the reality that very few clubs can afford to match Messi’s financial demands. Barcelona know that and are playing on it.
Messi imagery has been removed from the club’s website but the likelihood is that he will still be playing for the club in the coming season.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta has been overseeing talks with other stars to force pay cuts of up to 40 or 50pc. Cutting Messi down to size was an exemplary key.
Laporta thought this had been sealed, though not signed, last month. Club and player agreed verbally on a 50pc salary cut but for a contract extension to last for five years, far beyond the end of Messi’s formal playing career.
The club has recently obtained a €525m line of credit to help with wages and day-to-day running costs.
Barcelona’s top-heavy wages structure had plunged the club into a greater financial crisis than any of their major Big Five league rivals.
One outcome was no big-money summer signings: Dutch forward Memphis Depay, veteran Argentina striker Sergio Aguero and Spanish defender Eric Garcia all arrived on free transfers while Dutch midfielder Ginio Wijnaldum turned down Barcelona at the last minute in securing better terms at Paris Saint-Germain on leaving Liverpool.
Messi made no formal comment on Barcelona’s announcement which, according to sources close to Argentina’s Copa America-winning captain, left him in a state of shock.
The storm broke after this club statement:
Despite having reached an agreement between FC Barcelona and Leo Messi and with the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, it cannot be formalized because of economic and structural obstacles (Spanish LaLiga regulations).
Given this situation, Lionel Messi will not continue linked to FC Barcelona. Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of both the player and the club cannot finally be fulfilled.
Barça would like to thank with all its heart the player’s contribution to the enhancement of the institution and wish him the best in his personal and professional life.
That contribution adds up to 17 years of service, a club record 672 goals in 778 matches plus 34 major national and international trophies (three Club World Cups, four Champions Leagues, three UEFA Super Cups, 10 Spanish leagues, seven cups and seven supercups).
His last goal for Barcelona came in an ominous 2-1 home defeat by Celta de Vigo on May 16.
The initial breach in the relationship erupted on August 25 last year when Messi formally requested his release, one year ahead of his contract’s expiration. In the end he agreed to stay pending the outcome of presidential elections which saw Laporta return in place of controversial and increasingly incapable Josep María Bartomeu.
Messi became free, on January 1, to negotiate with other clubs in the absence of an extension agreement with Barcelona. He made no move, awaited Laporta’s return to power and then agreed the contract extension which has now fallen foul of LaLiga salary regulations.
At least, this is the Barcelona spin. It comes within two days of LaLiga agreeing the $3bn sale of a chunk of its media and commercial rights to the investment company CVC Capital Partners.
Barcelona believe the league can now afford to ease its regulatory strictures because keeping Messi in Spanish football is crucial to LaLiga in terms of foreign media rights.
LaLiga suffered a drop in international ratings after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real Madrid to Juventus in 2018. The loss of Messi to England or France or somewhere else would significantly reduce LaLiga’s international media appeal.
Messi has been the subject of speculation over a move to mega-rich Manchester City ever since his old boss Pep Guardiola arrived at the Premier League champions in 2016. His arrival would be sensational but only in the short term, given his age and likely physical ability to withstand the rigours of English football.
He has also been linked with PSG but financial problems, not least over French TV revenue, means the French champions are focused on trying to persuade Kylian Mbappe to stay rather than spend money they barely possess on Messi.
The latest Messi mess is far from cut and dried.