In a press conference on Friday, Barcelona president Joan Laporta reiterated what the club had announced on their website Thursday: after 21 years, Lionel Messi would not be returning to the club.
You can read about the background here, but Laporta doubled down on blaming LaLiga’s financial restrictions and the disastrous finances he inherited from his predecessor Jose Maria Bartomeu for Messi’s exit, saying there was no going back.
With three-and-a-half weeks left in the transfer window, many see Paris Saint-Germain as the likeliest destination for the 34 year old Argentine, but… there’s always a but. And there’s plenty more of which to make sense.
Q: How? Laporta said “the negotiation was over” and that he didn’t want to give anyone “false hope.”
A: As I wrote yesterday, when you strip everything down to its component parts, three things are true: Messi wants to stay (at least according to Laporta), Barcelona want him to stay, and it’s very obviously in LaLiga’s interest for him to stay. So it feels nonsensical that when you have three parties who get to decide Messi’s future and they all want the same outcome, there is no way to reach a solution.
Q: Laporta did say he “expected LaLiga to be more flexible” with their spending caps, but also that the league was under pressure from other clubs to stick to the rules…
A: Sure. Rules are rules, but Messi adds value to the league as a whole, and most clubs benefit from the trickle-down effect. Even a giant like Real Madrid: a Clasico where they face Barcelona with Messi is worth more to them than one where they face a Messi-less Barca.
That’s why it doesn’t quite seem right, and Jaume Roures thinks so too.
Q: Who is Jaume Roures and why does he matter?
A: Roures is a Barcelona “socio” (member), but more importantly, he’s the founder of MediaPro, a Spanish media company that deals in film and sports rights. He’s better connected than most, telling Spanish radio station RAC1 that “La Liga had approved the registration of Messi’s new contract” and this was something he had “personally verified.” But then, Roures says, “something happened… I do not know what happened.”
Q: What might have happened?
A: Some have speculated that at the last moment, Messi’s camp weren’t happy with the deal Laporta proposed. Like we suggested yesterday, that this is a power play from Laporta, taking shots at Javier Tebas and La Liga, against the backdrop of the CVC Capital Partners deal and the Super League.
Indeed, Laporta mentioned the CVC deal on Friday, saying that the only way they could have gotten LaLiga to rubber-stamp the Messi contract was if Barcelona agreed to rubber-stamp the CVC deal. And, Laporta said, he wasn’t prepared to do that because it “was against the club’s interests” and “would have mortgaged their future.”
Julien Laurens comments on the latest surrounding Lionel Messi and his future at Barcelona.
Q: It’s almost as if Laporta is suggesting LaLiga and their president, Javier Tebas, were blackmailing the club, telling them the only way they would approve Messi’s contract is if they supported the CVC deal (which has yet to be approved by Liga clubs). Is that the case?
A: Tebas doesn’t think so. He took to Twitter to say that the CVC deal would have actually helped all clubs, including Barcelona. He also implied that Laporta was on board with it “until a few hours ago.” So yeah: it does feel like Messi is a pawn in the CVC dispute.
But even leaving that to one side, Laporta offered up some numbers that don’t quite seem to add up…
LATEST NEWS | Leo #Messi will not continue with FC Barcelona
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) August 5, 2021
Q: Like what?
A: For a start, he said they did another audit on the club’s finances and discovered they were worse than they’d previously thought and therefore, he didn’t have six months to sort out Messi’s contract. But then why negotiate without knowing what your budget actually is?
Laporta also said that without Messi’s contract on their books they are right “at the limit” of what LaLiga rules allowed, but that hopefully they can still register their four new signings: Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Emerson and Eric Garcia. Those four are costing Barcelona around $40m in salaries, plus another $10m for Emerson’s transfer fee. That’s $50m, which is roughly what Messi had reportedly agreed to cut his salary to: 20m Euros net or after-tax.
Q: Put like that, it seems as if it’s a straight choice: those four guys or Messi…
A: It’s not quite that simple, and Laporta himself noted that the numbers weren’t comparable, but that’s what they suggest. Unless, of course, Messi was going to cost Barca more than what they thought they had agreed.
Barcelona correspondent Sam Marsden debates whether Barcelona President Joan Laporta is looking for a reaction from LaLiga if Messi leaves.
Q: Can’t Barcelona try to lower their wage bill by selling players or getting them to take further cuts?
A: You’d think so. It’s tough for Barca to find new clubs for their unwanted players because they are on very high wages and the clubs who could use them can’t afford them. And, I guess, they don’t want to sacrifice prized young players like Frenkie De Jong or Pedri for another two seasons of Messi, which is more than understandable.
Laporta says they have no more “room to maneuver” in terms of salary cuts, but frankly, you wonder what veterans like Sergio Busquets or Gerard Pique, players who are hugely committed and loyal to Barcelona and are on huge wages, might say if you asked them: “Hey, might you take a pay cut if it meant playing the final years of your career alongside Messi?”
Q: What does Messi have to say in all this?
A: We don’t know — he hasn’t spoken yet. You assume he wants to stay and might even be willing to cut his salary even further. And if this really is all about the CVC deal and getting LaLiga to be more flexible, maybe he’s even on board with Laporta’s actions. Though, equally, you imagine he wouldn’t appreciate being used as a pawn in the eternal struggle between Barcelona and Tebas.
Q: At least the number of potential Messi destinations seems to have been whittled down…
A: Yes, Pep Guardiola said that new signing Jack Grealish would be getting the No. 10 shirt and that Messi was “not a target at this time“, which leaves PSG as the only club ready – and able – to fork out close to $200m for two years’ of Messi’s wages (reportedly, his new club won’t be getting the “Messi hometown discount” and will be spending well north of $90m a season).
Q: PSG? They’ve been on a spending spree: they already signed big money free agents like Georginio Wijnaldum from Liverpool, Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid and Gianluigi Donnarumma from Milan. Plus they spent $70m on Achraf Hakimi from Inter. How can they afford all this?
A: Good question. You’d expect their wage bill to balloon even without Messi, and don’t forget: they still haven’t extended Kylian Mbappe’s contract, which expires in June 2022. He’s going to be making close to Messi money if he signs a new deal.
But Messi is seen as a transformational player, I guess, driving up the club’s prestige even further, opening up new commercial possibilities and so on. Not to mention what he gives you on the pitch. The club have said they’re considering the situation and PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino (who is from Rosario, like Messi) is obviously open to the possibility.
If you were a cynic, you’d suggest that from the perspective of PSG’s Qatari owners, it’s more about having a short-term perspective, with the Qatar World Cup coming up in late 2022.
Q: How would Messi even fit at PSG?
A: You assume in a front three with Neymar and Mbappe, which would be pretty tasty. I’m not sure how much it makes sense tactically, but so much talent trumps tactics any day of the week. Plus PSG’s approach has been rather NBA-like in recent years: a couple of superstars on max contracts, a clutch of reliable, mid-size stars and a bunch of cheaper guys to fill out the squad.
(I say that with the utmost respect for people like Leandro Paredes and Juan Bernat, by the way…)
Pep Guardiola rules out the possibility of Lionel Messi joining Man City and thanks him for his service to Barcelona.
Q: What about Financial Fair Play?
A: Right now, it’s suspended due to the impact of COVID-19. In the longer term, UEFA are working on new rules, but it’s all up in the air. So for the time being, it’s about who can stump up the cash more than who can balance the books.
Q: What would the appeal of PSG be for Messi? It’s not going to be the cash: he has more than enough…
A: I guess he’d like to try something new, and he’s long been a fan of Pochettino. Plus he gets to be reunited with Neymar. And, of course, he can still compete for the Champions League: winning a fifth must be a priority for him.
Some have also suggested it’s a less demanding league in a physical sense, which would allow him to rest up and arrive fully fit at Qatar 2022, where he can take one last crack at winning the World Cup with Argentina. Maybe there’s some truth in that, too…
But my hunch is that this is far from over. We need to hear from Messi. We need to gauge what the Barcelona fans’ response is going to be. We need to hear from Tebas (and, more importantly, other LaLiga clubs need to hear from Tebas in terms of how his departure might affect the CVC deal and short-term LaLiga revenues). And from PSG’s perspective, since the well isn’t bottomless, they need to be sure that having Messi for 2021-22 doesn’t mean seeing Mbappe in another team’s jersey in 2022-23.
So maybe I’m being romantic, but I think there are more twists and turns to come. And my hunch still says they will find a way to keep him.