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Up unti a few hours ago, the world was waiting for the three golden words from transfer market journalist extraordinaire Fabrizio Romano on Lionel Messi’s contract extension which was expected to be a matter of time. However what everyone got instead was a seven word statement that has wide ranging ramifications on world football – ‘Lionel Messi will not continue at FC Barcelona.



The situation, apparently in control until recently, quickly deteriorated on Thursday as reports emerged that contract talks had become complicated after a meeting. Bad went to worse to the unthinkable as within hours it was confirmed by the club that the Argentine legend will not be continuing with the Blaugrana. The question remains though – why is Lionel Messi leaving Barcelona?



Messi’s contract saga began last summer as he expressed his desire to leave via an official fax to former club president Josep Bartomeu. He reportedly had an agreement with the club that he would be allowed to leave for free if he informed them of this desire 10 days after the season finished. This under normal circumstances, and as per the contract, would have been June 10.

However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2019-20 season ended late and in catastrophy for Barcelona with an 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League after a poor run of results saw them collapse in the league as well. Messi then informed the club board of his desire to leave but they refused his request stating that the date of June 10 had passed.



For Messi this was a violation of the gentleman’s agreement in place but legally Barcelona were in the right and they managed to keep him at the club. Bartomeu has since left, leaving behind a massive mess. Joan Laporta has replaced him and has a better relationship with Messi. It was reported that Laporta’s arrival, combined with a positive run of form towards the end of the 2020-21 season, had convinced him of staying at the club.



Perhaps Messi had just developed a case of Stockholm Syndrome and has come to his senses to see what Barcelona truly are – a mess on the field, financially, and administratively.



Barcelona’s severe mismanagement under Bartomeu and co. led to large scale financial troubles that are frankly embarassing for a club of their stature. Their expenditure on the transfer fee of players like Coutinho, Dembele, and Griezmann who they did not particularly need, and their poor contract negotiations leading to a deadwood of players like Umtiti, Pjanic, and Lenglet has led to the club being in a state of limbo.

They have been unable to register new signings Eric Garcia, Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay. The Spanish La Liga goes through each club’s financial records and projected revenues for the upcoming season and defines a budget as per a pre-decided algorithm. Barcelona’s poor record led to a budget cut of 324 million Euros for the 2020-21 season. However, La Liga had made allowances to suspend the spending cap rules in lieu of the pandemic but that excuse has quickly forsaken the Barcelona board.



Barcelona had the highest wage bill in Europe and one they simply could not afford on paper or in person. Despite agreements to cuts by players like Pique and ter Stegen, their wage bill was grossly inflated. The club need to make 200 million Euros worth of savings if they are to register their new signings and Messi’s departure will go a long way in helping this.



Even in their statement, Barcelona have drawn attention or rather directed blame towards the La Liga spending caps rule as the primary reason for Messi’s departure. The club had reportedly reached an agreement with Messi but were unable to get him registered – a problem of their own making but a subtle nod in the direction of the Spanish League is a major underlying statement.



Which brings us to a possible, if hypothetical, reason for this whole situation. Barcelona’s carefully worded statement absolves them of the blame as they claim that they reached an agreement and by extension had the means to pay for it as well. That is the official party line even if the story that the club’s accounts tell is another.

It of course just so happens to be a coincidence that Barcelona are one of three clubs alongside dear friends Real Madrid and Italian prima donnas Juventus who are still invested in the Super League project. A court ruling recently stopped UEFA from undertaking action against the three ‘saviours’ of football and the clubs took the opportunity to reiterate their dedication to the project.



In this context, Barcelona’s statement reveals a more sinister intention. Every football fan in the world wants to see Lionel Messi play. More than half of them want to see him do so in a blue and red jersey (yes, the new ugly one counts too). The club is looking to blame the league for a failure to see this dream continue.

It would not be surprising to see Laporta come out in the coming hours or days to further this agenda. Perhaps his counterpart in Madrid will echo these words in his interview with the part-time sports show, part-time TV soap on El Chiringuito. There is much more to come out of this space but for now, we can pretend to believe that Lionel Messi is leaving Barcelona because the club could not register him due to La Liga’s financial rules.

Ritwik Khanna
Economics student supporting FC Goa and Manchester United, in true masochistic way. Can be found reading Jonathan Wilson and Sid Lowe or planning a quirky trip in his free time.

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