The soccer world came to a standstill Tuesday when reports circulated that Lionel Messi had informed FC Barcelona he wants to leave the only club he’s ever played for. The ensuing hysteria was predictable since Messi is a 6-time Ballon d'Or award winner and (arguably) the best player in the world at age 33. Here’s what we know:
- Messi has one year left on his contract with FC Barcelona.
- If he wants to leave before his contract is up, a club will have to pay a buyout which is reportedly valued at $700 Million. That is in addition to the actual annual salary a club would negotiate with him, and any remaining transfer fees.
- If Messi chooses to stay at the club for the final season on his contract, essentially he can walk for free at the end of the season, and begin negotiations with other clubs starting in January.
- There is a clause in Messi’s contract that allows him to leave for “free” at the end of each season. That usually concludes on June 10. Because of the pandemic, the regular La Liga and UEFA Champions League season was paused, and officially ended August 23. This is where things can get messy (no pun intended). If the change in the season timeline was reflected in Messi’s current contract, he could essentially walk away from the club for free. If not, a legal battle will take place and Messi could be forced to stay with Barcelona whether he likes it or not.
So why is this all happening? Even the most casual of soccer fans know that Messi has been loyal to Barcelona his entire career. From his debut on the senior team in 2004 to this past season, Messi has been a staple for the club, winning a record 33 trophies, including: four Champions League trophies, 10 La Liga titles, and six Copa Del Rey’s. He’s won more Ballon d’Ors than any other player in history and has broken too many world records to list here.
He’s also been very public with his feelings about the FC Barcelona board, specifically his distaste for current Barcelona President, Josep Bartomeu. In March, Messi and his teammates announced they would take a 70 percent wage pay cut after the board reportedly leaked to the media that the players had initially refused to do so in light of the pandemic. During the COVID-19 lockdown, Messi claimed on more than one occasion the team needed “big changes” if they wanted another shot at winning the Champions League.
Instead, Barcelona suffered an embarrassing loss against Bayern Munich, after an embarrassing loss to Liverpool the previous season, and an embarrassing loss to AS Roma the year before that. While soccer is a team sport, it’s been widely reported that Messi believes the FC Barcelona board is not doing all it can to get him help on the pitch and many Barcelona fans would agree. At his age, Messi knows he has a few good seasons left before he retires from the sport altogether. He doesn’t want to waste them on a team that’s rebuilding, which is probably the crux of why he wants to leave.
So who can afford him? Between the buyout clause, Messi’s salary, and any residual transfer fees—assuming Messi isn’t awarded free agent status in his presumptive legal fight with FC Barcelona—a club will have to pay almost $800 million for the purchase of the Argentinian forward. There are only eight current teams in a position to do just that, with the frontrunner being Manchester City.
Not only is Manchester City coached by Pep Guardiola, Messi’s former coach at Barcelona, but they seem best positioned to obtain him. They finished second in the Premier League and made it to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. In September, Messi did a rare interview with Sport in which he said "I want to keep winning things with the club. I want to keep achieving important things. For me, the clause doesn't mean anything. Money neither. I'm moved by other things. The most important thing for me is a winning project." If that’s the case, Manchester City would be a perfect match for Messi to continue his storied legacy.