FC Barcelona have published an official press release stating that Argentine legend Lionel Messi will not be returning to the club for the 2021/22 season. Messi, now aged 34, has been out of contract since July 1 and despite informally agreeing a new four-year contract on greatly reduced wages, the club has confirmed that “financial and structural obstacles” will prevent them from honoring that deal.
It is a seismic blow for Barcelona and the La Liga brand as a whole, who have leaned heavily on Messi’s brand through the years. His 21-year spell at the Nou Camp is now officially at an end after 672 goals, ten La Liga championships, four Champions League titles and seven Copa del Reys. It’s well documented that Barcelona have been struggling with debt that’s acted like a millstone around the neck of the Catalan outfit. With over €1bn of debt to service, it was always going to be a difficult deal to broker, not least with new faces like Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia in the building.
La Liga giants like Barcelona are not the only ones suffering financially at present. In 2020, Premier League clubs collectively lost £700m and the national game as a whole is haemorrhaging over £100m monthly. This is already starting to have an impact on some of England’s biggest clubs outside of the Premier League, who are having to cut their cloth accordingly to meet Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations in the same vein as Barca.
In a lengthy press conference, FC Barcelona president Joan Laporta revealed the finer details of Messi’s departure. Laporta revealed that the latest audit of the club’s financial situation was “worse than [they] expected”, which made it even harder to finance Messi’s new contract. Indeed, Laporta confirmed that Barcelona is already “at the limit” of what it can do financially “even without Leo [Messi]”.
On Messi’s next club, Laporta admitted it was something that reporters needed to “ask him and his agent”. Nevertheless, he insisted that as the “best player in the world” he would be certain to have offers left, right and center.
Who are the likely suitors for Lionel Messi as a free agent?
In reality, there are only a handful of clubs that are likely to be able to afford the services of Lionel Messi. One of those is Manchester City, managed by Messi’s former Barca coach Pep Guardiola. The one fly in the ointment with City is that the 2020/21 Premier League champions have only just completed the £100m transfer of Aston Villa icon Jack Grealish. After breaking the British transfer fee record, do they have enough in the bank to pay for Messi’s contract and his signing-on fee too? City’s owner Sheikh Mansour certainly has deep enough pockets, but whether City can complete a deal that keeps them on the right side of FFP also remains to be seen.
There is also a reason why Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) have been installed as the early favorites to complete the signing of an unattached Lionel Messi. The Qatari-owned club are the only team on the planet with similar spending power to that of Manchester City. PSG are managed by Messi’s compatriot Mauricio Pochettino, which could be a major pull for the 34-year-old. Furthermore, the chance to play alongside the likes of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe could prove difficult for Messi to turn down.
The leading sportsbooks are also running a book on Messi joining any Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise in the US. The MLS has regularly sought big-name stars to try and take the league to new heights, with the likes of David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Kaka all gracing their skills in the MLS through the years. Messi could be tempted stateside too. There is no doubt that Messi has earnt plenty of millions from his time at Barcelona. So, there is every chance he may not get to play with the 2021/22 Champions League ball if he takes the sentimental approach and heads home to Argentina. A chance to end his career where it all began at Newell’s Old Boys could prove a real pull. One thing is for sure, the coming days and weeks of Messi negotiations are sure to be fascinating.