Lionel Messi broke his silence over his future four days ago in an explosive interview with Goal, declaring he’d have to continue at Barcelona. We look at what this means for the player and the club, and whether the dust has finally settled on this saga.
The story so far
Lionel Messi shook the footballing world last month when he sent a burofax to the Barca board soon after the final of the UEFA Champions League declaring his wish to unilaterally terminate his contract with the club.
The player claimed that he had a clause in his contract that granted him the choice to leave after the end of the 2019-20 season, if he wished so.
Barca outright rejected his decision, claiming that the clause could only be activated before June 10, and since the decision was intimated long past said date, it was invalid.
Messi’s side made the claim that the June 10 deadline was set keeping in mind that all club competitions usually ended by first week of June, giving the player ample time to let the club know of his decision and for the club to take the necessary steps. Since the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the season into August, Messi felt it would also allow him an extended period to make a decision.
Barca unsurprisingly fixated back on the June 10 deadline, stating that he was past his deadline, and a release from his contract would now require a full payment of the $825m – an amount deliberately set to improbable proportions to safeguard the club, especially after the infamous Neymar transfer to PSG in 2017.
Only two plausible outcomes could be seen – Messi taking Barca to court, or Barca reeling in and accepting a much lower (but still substantial) transfer fee from a potential buyer, until Messi broke his silence.
Goal España released an interview with Messi on Sep 4, in which Messi declared that he’d be continuing at Barcelona, not because he had changed his mind, but because the club had made it impossible for him to leave.
“I told the club, including the president, that I wanted to go. I’ve been telling him that all year. I believed it was time to step aside. I believed that the club needed more young players, new players and I thought my time in Barcelona was over.”
What also made this interview exceptional was the fact that Messi, who’s barely known to ever be vocal, just ripped into the Barca board and their lack of planning.
“I always said I wanted to end here and I always said I wanted to stay here. That I wanted a winning project and to win titles with the club, to continue expanding the legend of Barcelona at the top level. And the truth is that there has been no project or anything for a long time, they juggle and cover holes as things go by.”
Messi also went on to explain why he choose to not let Barca know of his decision to leave before June 10 if he had wanted to leave for a while.
“As I said, I thought and was sure that I was free to leave, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not. Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered the whole season.”
Messi also clarified as to why he was going to continue at the club, even if it went against his wishes.
“Now I am going to continue in the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the €700 million clause, and that this is impossible. There was another way and it was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, which gave me everything since I arrived, it is the club of my life, I have made my life here. Barca gave me everything and I gave it everything. I know that it never crossed my mind to take Barca to court.”
So, what now?
Messi having to stay at Barca for atleast another year might have quenched the thirst of some romantics who wish to see him end his career there, but it doesn’t help Barcelona in any way. Understandably, they had to show strength doing whatever they could to not let Messi go for free, but essentially forcing him to stay when he has clearly stated his desire to leave feels like keeping him in a gilded prison. It also doesn’t help that Messi’s wages will continue to hamper Barca’s attempts to raise more funds for the team.
Lionel Messi is 33 years old. He has been one of the greatest players to ever grace the football pitch, but his time is inevitably coming to an end. Nobody would have wanted things to end like this, but Barca had a decent shot at getting ahead of the situation here by allowing Messi to leave with a transfer fee in exchange, especially when both Man City and PSG were reportedly ready to do so. Next year, they stand to lose him on free, when all the suitors will circle round for him once again.
This doesn’t exactly mean the end of the saga for the summer, however. Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu is already on his way out after a torrid presidential tenure and doesn’t also want to be the guy who let Messi go. That said, there might be some development in the story as the transfer window will go well into October, given how his return to training pans out among players and coaches alike.
Having Lionel Messi in even half of his form will be a supplement to any team. Albeit reluctantly, we can expect him to give his all to the club he has loved and been at for the last two decades. If he stays, we might just be in for the greatest swansong ever.
Watch this space for more updates.