The GOAT was supposed to sign a new four-year deal Thursday. Now, he’s leaving the only pro club he’s ever known.
It didn’t have to end this way for Lionel Messi and FC Barcelona.
After 21 years, more goals than any human being has ever scored for a single soccer team, and 34 major trophies, the Catalan club shockingly announced Thursday that its definitive GOAT won’t be returning after all.
“Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations),” the team announced on its official website. “Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled.”
The player and the club had previously agreed to a five-year contract at a much lower rate than Messi’s previous four-year, reported $672 million mega-deal. However, the debt-laden team failed to lessen its massive wage bill by unloading expensive players like Antoine Greizmann, Philippe Coutinho, Samuel Umtiti, Neto, or Miralem Pjanic.
Cutting costs was a must. And critically, the most valuable soccer team in the world fell short.
With a season-ending payroll last season of $412 million — already significantly slashed from seasons prior — and the pandemic crunching team revenues across the board, Barça simply couldn’t balance the books.
Coupled with its key role in proposing and promoting the failed European Super League, it may be that there’s never been a more embarrassing offseason for any major European club.
This all comes on the heels of the tumult of August 2020, when Messi expressed his desire to leave the club immediately on a free transfer following the 2019-20 season, specifically due to issues with then-club president Josep Bartomeu.
There were reported flirtations with Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, the latter of whom has reportedly agreed to acquire Aston Villa and England star Jack Graelish for an incredible $139 million and is hot on the trail of similarly priced Tottenham Hotspur superstar forward Harry Kane.
Those two teams, each backed by massive wealth from the Persian Gulf region, would seem to be back in the running for Messi if a return to Barcelona is utterly, permanently off the table (and there should be doubts about whether this divorce will stick).
But assuming this is really is the end, it’s an irresponsible, shameful, and wasteful way to end a relationship with arguably the most popular athlete on planet earth. A relationship that’s endured since Messi first arrived at Barça’s famed youth academy la Masia at the age of 13.
“FC Barcelona wholeheartedly expresses its gratitude to the player for his contribution to the aggrandizement of the club and wishes him all the very best for the future in his personal and professional life,” the team said.
And so begins what might just be the biggest, most expensive free agency in the history of sports.