What are the experts saying about Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona?
'Leo Messi will not continue with FC Barcelona'- a statement every Barcelona fan feared glared at them from the screens. This time wasn't like the previous occasions when it was posted by rival fan pages or meme pages. The statement was right below a photo of Lionel Messi donning the Number 10 jersey that was posted by the football club which was Messi's habitat for over 20 years.
The speculation around the Argentinian leaving his boyhood club has been around for years, more strongly than ever this year. Everyone knows all too well the drama that unfolded last year when Messi wanted to leave the club. Messi, knowing too well that no club can pay FC Barcelona the 700 million euro buyout clause mentioned in his contract, wanted to trigger a verbal agreement he had with then-club President Josep Bartomeu that would allow him to leave the club for free. But Bartomeu restrained him from leaving and Messi, due to his love for FC Barcelona, chose not to take the club to court and leave in an ugly fashion.
One year later, the situation looked better and the Argentinian extending his contract seemed like a reality. The club president who ran the club down into financial pits was fired, several players had agreed to wage cuts to help the club get back its financial stability, Joan Laporta, the President who arguably had one of the most fruitful spells with the club in his previous tenure, had returned. Even Messi stated his desire to remain with the club. But unfortunately, that wasn't enough to keep him.
This time around it was the fair play rules of La Liga, the league Barcelona plays in, that prevented Messi from signing a contract extension. Technically, Messi has been a free agent since June when his contract ran out and is free to negotiate with any club. But the common understanding in the footballing world was that Messi will remain with the club. Hell, he even agreed to a 50% wage cut, according to trusted sources. But, the club management's years of bad financial decisions have finally come to haunt them.
Exorbidant Wage Bills
It is common knowledge that Bartomeu left the club in a deep financial crisis and Blaugrana is currently in 1 billion euro debt. Barcelona is in dire need of a new salary negotiation team to stop the splurging of cash from Barcelona's finance pool into players' pockets. Nine players in the squad are getting more than 200,000 euros per week, according to reports. Two of them- Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti- have barely played any matches for the club in recent times. Even though Barcelona cut their wage budget by half this season, there is still no space to accommodate Messi. Hiring him would then be an act of challenging La Liga's salary cap which would've led to penalties being imposed by the league on the club.
Was Messi's departure planned well in advance?
Questions are being raised on why Barcelona, while fully aware of their financial condition, splurged out on players like Memphis Depay from Lyon, and Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia from Manchester City (two of those have high wage bills) if they had intentions of retaining Messi's services. Some media companies and critics are speculating that this could all be a PR stunt so that the blame of the world's best player leaving his club can be shifted to La Liga's management. The club was very clear in its statements: 'Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations)'.
As evidently stated on it, the exit is being blamed on the league's regulations and not on the club's financial strategies in the past few years. There are speculations that Messi also wanted to leave but to prevent backlash from the fans, both the club and the player devised a perfect PR ruse.
Another reason to not completely shoo off this speculation is because of Barcelona's opposition to the investment by CVC Capital Partners. The Blaugrana faithfuls' hopes went up when La Liga announced an investment of 230million pounds. A sizeable amount in the invested money will come into Barcelona's funds which effectively will put Barcelona in a better financial situation and a higher chance of keeping Messi.
But observers say that Barcelona don't want to tie itself down to CVC's investment because it will crash all hopes of resurfacing the ambitious and controversial Super League. Sources say that Real Madrid is also opposing the investment due to this same reason. But the deal will be finalised only after a voting with all 42 clubs in La Liga and Segunda which is scheduled on August 12.
Is this all a ploy to force Javier Tebas to make an exception for Messi?
Javier Tebas, La Liga's president, has been uncompromising so far to make an exception for Messi in the fair play rules. The Argentinian skipper is unquestionably a primary factor of attraction in La Liga. Watching the world's best player leave the league will reduce viewership and sponsorship which will financially hurt the league. How Laporta is constantly blaming La Liga's regulations for the departure of Messi can be to force Tebas to think twice about Messi leaving and about the financial losses that will accompany Messi's departure. With just a few days left for the start of the new season, changing Tebas's mind looks unlikely. Even if he did, that won't end well either since it can raise questions on how rich clubs are influencing the decisions made by the league.
Although all these are speculations, one thing that is established is that Messi is now a free agent. That means, he is answerable to no one and is in full control of where he can go next. Rumours have started circulating that he may be headed to Paris Saint-Germain next. The French club has booked the Eiffel tower for a specific date and football fans across the world believe it is to unveil the signing of Lionel Messi in a spectacular fashion.
Currently, two choices lie in front of Messi. Either he can move to a new club in Europe, or god forbid, in Major League Soccer, or the Argentinian can shock the world by realising his retirement dream by going back home to play for his boyhood club Newell's Old Boys. Not a delightful news for football fans but it will undoubtedly be a hell of a cinematic story.