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Saturday, September 25, 2021

Explained: Why is Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona?

Lionel Messi has been the Spanish league's most lucrative player in terms of commercial deals and TV rights, and according to some pundits, this could well be a pressure tactic from Barca to force LaLiga to water down its FFP rules.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: August 20, 2021 10:15:45 am
Lionel Messi during his final press conference at Barcelona. (Reuters)

Lionel Messi broke down at his final press conference as a Barcelona player. Since making his senior debut at Camp Nou in 2003, Messi has played 778 games for the Catalan club, scoring 672 goals. He claimed he wanted to stay at the club and had even accepted a 50 per cent salary cut to sign a new contract. But as it turned out, Barcelona couldn’t even afford a cut-price Messi.

Why is Lionel Messi’s Barcelona exit a football tragedy?

Messi has spent over two decades at Barcelona, and is the most decorated player in the club. Even his children are Argentine-Catalan.

There were several brinkmanship attempts when things didn’t go well on the pitch, including a call to leave the club ahead of the 2020-21 season. He shared an acrimonious relationship with erstwhile club president Josep Bartomeu. But when Joan Laporta replaced Bartomeu, Messi committed his future to Barcelona.

By July 1 he was a free agent, with a new contract being formalised.

“We had everything agreed, but at the last minute, it couldn’t happen. This year I wanted to stay and I couldn’t. Last year I didn’t want to stay, and I said it,” Messi said.

Lionel Messi, Lionel Messi Copa America final, Lionel Messi argentina vs brazil, lionel messi first international trophy, lionel messi emotional Argentina’s Lionel Messi kneels at the end of the Copa America final soccer match at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (AP Photo)

What did Barcelona say on Messi’s exit?

On August 5, Barcelona confirmed through a statement that Messi “will not continue” with the club. A day later, Laporta said: “Leo wanted to stay and the Club wanted him to stay, but with the LaLiga rules it has not been possible.”

The club wanted to extend the 34-year-old’s contract by two years, but LaLiga’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules prevented it. As per the rules, Barcelona’s wage-to-turnover percentage has to be 70 per cent.

Why can’t Barcelona afford Messi?

Barcelona couldn’t have re-signed the six-time Ballon d’Or winner even if he had played for free. As Laporta explained, with Messi on board, the club’s wage-to-turnover percentage was 110 per cent. And without him, it would have been 95 per cent – well above the FFP cut-off mark. As per the latest financial report, the club’s debt exceeded GBP 1 billion, which includes money owed for Philippe Coutinho and Frenkie de Jong. The wage bill for their first-team squad is around GBP 235 million-a-year.

“Before anything, I want to explain that we have received a terrible inheritance from the previous board,” Laporta said.

“There’s no room to manoeuvre and the (FFP) rules mark the limits… we had to accept an agreement that mortgaged the Club’s TV rights for half a century and FC Barcelona is above everything else.”

Is this the end of Messi at Barcelona?

A tearful goodbye suggests so. Messi has been the Spanish league’s most lucrative player in terms of commercial deals and TV rights, and according to some pundits, this could well be a pressure tactic from Barca to force LaLiga to water down its FFP rules. Interestingly, Real Madrid also released a statement, attacking LaLiga, on the heels of Barcelona’s confirming Messi’s exit.

Is Messi going to Paris Saint-Germain?

Messi remained coy on his next move. But he has reportedly spoken with PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino and the club is making arrangements for an Eiffel Tower unveiling of Messi. PSG are one of the very few clubs that can afford the 34-year-old. Also, owned by Qatari investors, Messi’s arrival could unlock huge commercial possibilities ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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