Barcelona Wants To Retain Lionel Messi. La Liga may not allow it.

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When Lionel Messi walked off the pitch late Saturday night after the Copa América final, the Argentine captain, one of the most famous athletes in history, finally said, a champion in his national colors.

He was also unemployed just weeks after his 34th birthday.

Messi’s talent has never been questioned. Six times the worldwide player of the year, he is among the best players of his generation or any generation. Yet his professional future and even his ability to adapt to FC Barcelona next season suddenly became very doubtful.

Messi wants to stay at Barcelona, ​​the only professional home he knows, and Barcelona desperately wants to keep him. But the club’s dire financial troubles and a number of key decisions made by team management, including potentially disastrous ones Messi’s contract expires At the end of June – they jeopardized arguably the most successful alliance between a club and a single player in football history.

And the vice in the form of the strict financial rules of Spanish football is getting tighter by the day.

Messi said nothing about his contract status last month as he led Argentina to victory in Brazil’s Copa América. And Barcelona’s new president, Joan Laporta, tried to present a confident front. “Everything is fine,” he told news crews last week, when he and other Barcelona executives came together to look for a solution, as they camped outside his office.

But the problem is that Messi’s future may no longer be in the hands of the player or his club. Spanish league rules limit each club’s spending to just one percentage of club income, and league officials have repeatedly said they won’t weaken their rules to accommodate Barcelona, ​​which is well above that limit.

In short, if Barcelona can’t deduct 200m euros, or about $240m, from their pay bill this summer – an almost impossibly large sum in a football economy created by the pandemic – they will not be allowed to enroll any new players, including Messi. for next season. (Barcelona’s decision to let Messi’s contract expire last month means he now has to be registered as a new signing rather than a renewal, which might have been easier.)

A break between Messi and Barcelona would be seismic for both sides. Messi has been Barcelona’s focus for almost two decades, the architect of much of his success on the pitch and the engine of his financial strength, away from him.

But while Barcelona has been raising money at a breathtaking pace in recent years – becoming the first club to surpass $1 billion in annual revenue in 2019 – they have also spent more zealously, impulsive management, hasty decisions and imprudent living life on the financial edge. contracts. Messi’s most recent four-year deal alone was worth almost $675 million if he met every clause and condition, an amount so large it had an inflationary effect on the salaries of all his teammates and fueled a now-devouring payroll . Three quarters of Barcelona’s annual income.

Now facing more than 1 billion euros in debt and hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, Barcelona are struggling to balance their ledgers in line with league rules.

That Barcelona finds itself on the brink of the abyss is of course partly because of Messi. His losses over the past two years have exceeded $500 million, mostly due to rich contracts like Barcelona’s former management gave Messi in the fall of 2017.

Details of the 30-page deal, leaked to a Spanish newspaper, are testament to Barcelona’s taste for living on the edge: a salary of around $1.4 million a week. A $139 million signing bonus. A $93 million “loyalty” bonus to a player he’s coached since he was 13 years old.

A new contract, as yet unfinished, will almost certainly require one of the world’s most valuable athletes, Messi, to accept a substantial pay cut.

Victor Font, one of the losing candidates in this year’s presidential election, said he was surprised that the team had not yet made the necessary financial arrangements to keep Messi. But like Laporta, he said he believes Messi will stay at the club.

“The alternative would be such a disappointment that I can’t think of an alternative,” Font said in a phone call.

The team does not receive any sympathy or preferential treatment from the Spanish league. The league’s CEO, Javier Tebas, told reporters this week that he alone is responsible for Barcelona’s financial crisis. Yes, the coronavirus pandemic has battered the team’s finances, but other teams – especially Barcelona’s arch-rival Real Madrid – have found ways to act within league rules, he told reporters.

Tebas said the issue was that Barcelona did not have room to maneuver. The league calculates different limits for each team based on each club’s income statement, but limits expenses to 70 percent of revenues.

“It is not normal for clubs to spend up to the last euro of the salary limit,” Tebas said.

It’s not just Messi’s fate that stands in the balance. Barcelona have already announced the signings of Dutch forward Memphis Depay and Spanish national team defender Eric García for next season, as well as friend and Argentine teammate Sergio Agüero.

All three came as free agents, meaning Barcelona didn’t have to pay their former clubs millions of dollars in transfer fees, but the league won’t sign any of them or Messi until the club makes deep cuts in costs.

To create a financial vacuum, the club is working feverishly to drain players, tearing contracts with fringe talent and negotiating the exits of some of their other stars. But all of their biggest winners remained, and with the transfer market deflated by the lingering effects of the pandemic, these teams are unlikely to receive substantial offers from their competitors for players they know they need to sell.

Instead, Barcelona may be forced to sell key players – German goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen, Dutch playmaker Frenkie de Jong and even the latest locally grown Barcelona star Pedri will likely bring the highest returns – in order. put an end to.

Font said he expects Barcelona to prioritize re-signing Messi, even if it means some of the team’s newest signings or other key players currently under contract have to go.

“It’s a trade-off,” Font said. “You cannot save other players, but you will not prioritize others over Messi.”

However, Barcelona will likely find themselves in another stalemate if they fail to make the necessary cuts. According to the Spanish league regulations, a team can spend only a quarter of the money earned from player sales on new contracts. This means that even if he clears tens of millions of dollars off the books, he will only have a fraction of the total available to sign Messi or anyone else.

Could the unthinkable – Barcelona losing Messi for free – be close? Maybe. But La Liga said last week that there will be no exceptions or special rules to keep him in Spain.

“Of course we want Messi to stay,” said Tebas, CEO of La Liga. But when you run a league, you cannot base decisions on individual players or clubs.”

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