The footballing world is still trying to get to grips with the fact that Messi has declared his wish to leave Barcelona immediately. While this has called for an outcry, we try to posit why it could be a good thing for all parties involved, especially Barcelona.
On August 25, 2020, Lionel Messi sent a burofax to the FC Barcelona board announcing his wish to leave the club immediately. The news sent shockwaves to the footballing world. The Argentine legend could never have been expected to leave Barcelona in this manner, if at all. Yet the past few seasons have been angling toward something like this, which all reached a boiling point when Barcelona was humiliated by Bayern Munich is an 8-2 thrashing that still, at times, feels unreal.
A lot has been made since Messi’s announcement. Some say he pulls this antic every once in a while to get things done his way, while sources close to him claim this is not true, and that Messi genuinely wants a way out.
The Barca board has received a lot of flak since the Bayern defeat, with rampant removal of personnel like coach Quique Setién and sporting director Eric Abidal, many fans calling to see president Josep Bartomeu’s head roll. Barcelona is also encouraging an exodus of their senior players, with Ivan Rakitić already gone back to Sevilla. Amidst all the ending relations, is Lionel Messi’s longing for departure a step too far? As cardinal a sin it may seem to let Messi go, it might make sense.
Regardless to say, Messi is the highest earner at Barcelona ($80m), the club with the highest wage bill on the planet ($650 million). Messi’s performances on the pitch over the past decade and a half has not only granted him a strong voice of authority within the club, his salary has also skewed the club’s wage bill. Players began demanding wages comparable to Messi’s, most of whom wouldn’t even warrant half of what they get at Barcelona anywhere else. This has created a significant financial problem for Barcelona, who have on their hands an aging squad of high-earning individuals who are hard of offload, especially with the repercussions of the pandemic. Add to that a string of veritably bad transfer decisions, most of which were carried out to please Messi.
After Neymar’s high-profile $265m departure in 2017, Barca has thrown money very generously at players with an abysmal return. The $160m arrival of Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool might sting the most, given he not only failed to do well in a Barca shirt, but he also scored a brace and assisted a goal against them for Bayern while on loan. Ousmane Dembélé arrived from Dortmund for a $125m fee three years ago, but a string of injuries has halted his growth at the club. Antoine Griezmann came last year in a $143m deal that never made much sense, to begin with; he’s always found himself wanting for opportunities and played in positions not suiting his style of play. These are all but the most prominent players to look at from a long list of weird and unthinkable transfers (still can’t believe they had Kevin-Prince Boateng on loan).
Lionel Messi is 33. He’s still one of the world’s best players, but Barca was always going to have to deal with the reality of him leaving one day. They’d have hoped it to be more amicable, but this is how it has played out for better or worse. Now the very least Barca can do is see the silver lining in all of this.
There’s a lot of talk going around about Messi’s reported $835m release clause. There are talks of the club and Messi to go to court over its dissolution, but I don’t think it will come to that. The best outcome for all the parties – Messi, Barcelona, and a prospective buyer – is that a transfer fee be agreed upon, and Messi is allowed to leave.
How does it help Barcelona?
With the transfer fee received and Messi’s wage bill off their chest, Barcelona could go about resetting and restructuring the wage bill they so desperately require. Without Messi’s demands and the polar dependence of the entire team on him to carry them, Barcelona could look forward to a core equitable wealth distribution within the squad, for a new generation of superstars to emerge.
Where does Messi go?
While there have been some links to wealthy PSG, Manchester City has also emerged as favorites to get Messi because of the Guardiola link. While they haven’t officially come out and declared such, talks have been ongoing in the background, with the Blues all but waiting to get Barcelona’s all-clear. The most neutral outcome could see Man City demanded a hefty transfer price in the region of $130m-$200m. Fortunately for Man City, they can actually pull it off.
Man City had been spending very carefully over the past seasons with the UEFA hot on their tails and investigating them for potential breaches in their Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. However, UEFA has temporarily relaxed their FFP guidelines due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, meaning they’ll be taking account of the net expenditure of the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons together, giving City ample time to balance out their books over two years. City would want to bind Messi long-term to their City Football Group, that operates multiple football clubs across different continents. A long-term deal would allow them to amortize Messi’s transfer fee over the length of his contract. The City venture could also see Messi play for their MLS club New York City FC towards the end of his deal. It would still cost City a substantial amount of money, but they’ll also look to recover a lot of it back in brand deals and potential trophies, and even then, it’s Leo Messi, for crying out loud!
The Messi departure is by no means the perfect, romantic ending any one of us would have envisaged for the Argentine messiah. This only goes to show that not all stories have a perfect ending. And then, this is not the end of Messi’s story, by any means whatsoever.
Watch this space and we keep you updated on how this story unfolds.