Shockwaves were sent through the world of football after FC Barcelona announced that captain and star player Lionel Messi would be leaving after 21 years with the club. Messi, 34, has only ever played senior club football for the Catalans, but was out of contract after his deal expired on 1 July.
Barca and Messi had reached an agreement and there was a “clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract”, the club said in a statement. However, this “cannot happen because of Spanish La Liga regulations on player registration”.
The statement continued: “As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona. Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled. FC Barcelona wholeheartedly expresses its gratitude to the player for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the club and wishes him all the very best for the future in his personal and professional life.”
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“Leo Messi is a legend”, the Spaniards declared, and the Argentine will leave the club with a host of historic records. He is Barca’s all-time top scorer with 672 goals and during his Camp Nou career he has won ten La Liga titles and the Champions League four times. He is also a six-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Messi and his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo set Spanish football alight when they starred for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. With Ronaldo now playing in Italy for Juventus and Messi set to leave Barca, and most likely Spain, it’s the end of an era for La Liga.
‘Seismic, strange, sad’
Is this really the end of Messi at Barca, or will there be “one final twist”, the BBC asks. Barcelona said a new deal was due to be signed on Thursday, but the Spanish league’s “financial and structural obstacles” scuppered that.
Barcelona’s financial situation is “exceptionally critical”, said Radio Catalunya’s Ernest Macia. And it was revealed earlier this month by Spanish football reporter Guillem Balague that Messi had agreed a deal to 2026 with his wages being reduced by half.
However, in order to fund a new contract and to meet La Liga’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) requirements Barcelona still needed to sell players and reduce their wage bill by about €200m (£172m), the BBC reports. They are “yet to achieve this” and players such as Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho “remain on their books”.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta said keeping Messi would have affected the club “for 50 years”. He added: “The club is over 100 years old and it’s above everyone and everything, even above the best player of the world. We will always thank him for everything he’s done for us.”
Messi’s departure is “seismic, strange, sad and wrong”, says Henry Winter in The Times. “Visitors thought the Sagrada Família would be finished in Barcelona before Messi.”
Where will he go next?
Messi is said to be “shocked” and “surprised” at the dramatic revelation that Barcelona could not re-sign him, Sky Sports reports. He is “taking time with his father and agent Jorge to come to terms with what has happened and analyse his options for the future”.
The Argentine has been linked with various clubs over the years, but there’s only a select few that could afford his wages.
Manchester City, who are managed by ex-Barca boss Pep Guardiola, have just signed Jack Grealish for a British record £100m. But according to an incredibly speculative story in The Sun “things could be about to get even better”.
Tottenham and England striker Harry Kane is also on City’s wish list as is Messi, who has previously been linked with a move to the Etihad. “If City somehow manage to add Messi and Kane to the acquisition of Grealish, it will leave rival Premier League teams quaking in their boots,” says The Sun’s John Hutchinson.
Other possible destinations for Messi include Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan and “any MLS club”, says The Independent. Messi’s boyhood team in Argentina, Newell’s Old Boys, also offer an “emotional if unrealistic choice” should he choose to return to where it all began.
‘Changed the dynamic’
French giants PSG are favourites to sign Messi and sources say he has been in contact with the club’s head coach and fellow Argentine, Mauricio Pochettino.
PSG were “understood initially to be of the view that a deal could not be done”, PA reports. But the direct approach from Messi to Pochettino has “changed the dynamic” and they are confident that signing the player would be profitable in the long run.
Having already signed free agents Gianluigi Donnarumma, Sergio Ramos and Georginio Wijnaldum this summer, PSG are making progress in talks for Messi, Sky Sports reports. The French club believe they have a good chance of completing the deal and can afford to sign him without breaking any financial fair play rules.
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