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Monday, August 03, 2020

Explained: Is Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona?

According to reports, the greatest player in Barcelona’s history, Lionel Messi has called off negotiations over the extension of his contract at the club.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata | Updated: July 6, 2020 7:53:38 am
Is Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona? Barcelona’s Lionel Messi reacts during the match, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). (Reuters Photo: Miguel Vidal)

In 2001, Lionel Messi came to Futbol Club Barcelona as a 14-year-old. A total 480 appearances for the senior team and 441 goals (out of 700 in all for club and country so far) later, maybe the wheels have started to come off, if reports from Spain are to be believed. Messi, one of the greatest footballers of all time, might not renew his contract with Barça next year.

What is the issue?

According to Spanish radio network Cadena Ser, the greatest player in Barcelona’s history has called off negotiations over the extension of his contract at the club. Messi’s current contract comes to an end in 2021. Over the past decade-and-a-half Messi, has agreed to several contract extensions. The last deal was signed in 2017. ESPN has reported that off-the-pitch bust-ups with the Barcelona board is the reason why the 33-year-old has finally lost his patience.

But why is Messi at odds with the board?

According to the ESPN report, Messi is upset with the club’s front office because of a series of media leaks that have appeared to make him responsible for several incidents at the club, including the sacking of coach Ernesto Valverde earlier this year. Also, Messi is reportedly frustrated with the lack of quality in the squad.

But in fact, the friction between Messi and the Barcelona board began over the reduction in wages after the global coronavirus pandemic destroyed competitive sport on the planet. The Spanish press insisted that the board put “extra pressure” on the players to take the salary cut. Messi is reportedly on a £500,000-a-week contract.

So was Messi indeed unwilling to take a salary cut?

The entire episode was a bit acrimonious, and there seemed to be an effort to create an impression that Messi was against the salary cut.

Back in March, Messi had confirmed that he and his teammates would be taking a 70 per cent pay cut during the pandemic. A statement released by Barcelona first-team players read: “The time has come to announce that apart from the reduction of 70 per cent of our salary during the state of emergency, we will also make contributions so that the club’s employees can collect 100 per cent of their salaries while this situation lasts. Our desire has always been to take a pay cut, because we understand perfectly that this is an exceptional situation.”

But the statement also said: “It doesn’t surprise us that the club wanted to put us back under the microscope and try to pressure us into doing something we were always going to do.”

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Is Messi losing influence at Barça?

Messi has earned the right to become an influential figure at Barcelona. But Spanish clubs, especially the big ones like Barça and Real Madrid, have strong political connections, and the people in the smart seats there have always frowned upon player power. The late Johan Cruyff, the great Dutch player and coach who is considered the maker of Barcelona’s football philosophy, had faced something similar before he was sacked as the first-team manager in 1996.

But could things change next season?

There have been reports that the former Spain superstar and legendary Barça midfielder Xavi Hernández, who is now manager of Qatar’s Al-Sadd club, could replace Quique Setien as head coach at Camp Nou, the home stadium of FC Barcelona, next season. Messi and Xavi have spent years together at Barça and are personal friends — it remains to be seen whether the deadlock is broken if his erstwhile teammate does indeed return as manager.

Lionel Messi, Messi barcelona, Messi leaves barcelona, messi news Lionel Messi with Newell’s Old Boys vice-president Cristian D’Amico (R) in 2019. (Source: Twitter/@CANOBoficial)

Should Messi indeed leave, are there any potential destinations he could head to?

There aren’t too many clubs that could afford him. Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City would be options. But according to Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys vice-president Cristian D’Amico, Messi might well return to his childhood club at Rosario before he ultimately saunters into a golden sunset.

“I don’t know if it’s impossible. It’s a decision exclusively made by him and his family. We have to have the best possible context to help make a decision,” D’Amico told TNT Sports, adding: “When (Diego) Maradona came to Newell’s, nobody thought that he would come either. I hope that something similar can happen with Leo.”

What would it mean for La Liga to lose the six-time winner of the Ballon d’Or?

If Messi does quit Barcelona, Spain’s top football league would be poorer.

As Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane told reporters the other day: “I don’t know what will happen, but we hope not because he (Messi) is in this league and we want the best in this league.”

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