INCREASINGLY, it looks as though Lionel Messi won’t be moving to Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain or any other interested club for the time being. Messi is just too expensive to be signed by anyone. If La Liga’s support of Barcelona around the release terms of Messi’s contract remains, then a cool € 700 million will buy the little Argentinian. Who would be prepared to pay that sort of money for a 33 year-old?
Notwithstanding the “value for money” aspect of any deal, any club that parts with such a fee will be the pariah of the game. If City and PSG feel hard done by today at the way people view them, tabling € 700 million will do them untold public relations damage. It wouldn’t be a soft power play, it would be the ultimate flat-track bully behaviour. Not only that, but it would make Messi unpopular too, and he’s not accustomed to being disliked. No matter what team you follow, which nationality you might be, most people respect Messi. Being a € 700 million player would be quite obscene, especially as the whole deal, over a couple of years, will nudge a billion euros.
The Spanish league had to support Barcelona, in fact they had no choice. They could not side with Messi because it would undermine one of their top clubs, would imply that a player is bigger than the club, indeed the whole league. That may well be the case, but they could not let it show through. La Liga has always had a sword of Damocles hanging over it, the post-Messi/CR7 era. The globalisation of La Liga has been built on the dynamic of Messi versus Ronaldo, Barca v Real. The two players are social media magnets with massive appeal outside the domestic league. With no apparent successors, except perhaps Neymar and Mbappé, neither of whom play in Spain, the loss of both players will be a commercial and psychological blow. And if Messi went to the Premier League, La Liga’s position in the battle of the leagues will be further compromised.
But it is time to move on from what has been a golden era. La Liga and Barcelona have to look beyond Messi’s current contract and prepare for the future.
If Messi does stay until the end of his contract, and who knows if some smart lawyer won’t find a way to circumnavigate the clause in question?, will he be in the right frame of mind to play? There is talk of him being quite happy to sit-out the final year – according to reports, he’s already refusing to train and also to take part in medical procedures.
This is not about money, lord knows he has enough of that, but it is about the challenge, the buzz of being part of a decent team, and the pursuit of the biggest prizes. A year of inaction won’t do Messi any good at his age, even if he is the greatest player since his compatriot, Diego Maradona. At 33, it will be wasted time and also, his stock would have fallen by the time he returned to action. A player cannot take a sabbatical, even superstars like Leo.
Messi knows Barca are in some disarray and he doesn’t want to run-down his career with a team in a downward spiral. Critics might say Messi is deserting a sinking ship, but why not? His record speaks for itself and it has been a two-way relationship. Nobody has been a servant here, nobody has been held against their will.
It is possible Barca will give in, realising that if they let Messi remain idle, they potentially get nothing when his contract ends. If they agree to sell him for a substantial fee, they could get cash and also take some pressure off their huge wage bill. If he stays, they may not even get a year of Messi playing at the top of his game. Messi will still get a long line of takers in 12 months but there may be no problem in asking Manchester City, for example, to pay a record fee before he’s available for free.
Messi has done enough for Barca for them to allow him to depart, but you can understand then wanting an elegant solution to this problem. That shouldn’t be in court, in the form of a media slanging match or a game of politics and a stand-off that harms the reputation of both parties. It sounds, however, as though the only people benefitting from this saga will be lawyers in Barcelona.