Why Lionel Messi couldn’t have stayed at Barcelona even if he had played for free – iNews

A tearful Lionel Messi confirmed that his time at Barcelona really is up as he addressed his teammates, supporters and reporters during a press conference at the Nou Camp on Sunday.

Barcelona dropped the bombshell news that their captain would be leaving last week, due to “financial and structural obstacles” imposed upon them by La Liga.

Messi had verbally agreed terms on a new contract – a five-year extension – that would have seen him end his career in Catalunya, but he was unable to sign on the dotted line due to Barcelona’s well-documented issues.

The club’s debt is conservatively estimated to stand at around €1.2bn (£1bn) with president Joan Laporta admitting in midweek that they lost €487m (£412m) during the 2020-21 campaign alone. The club’s wage bill is also well in excess of La Liga’s salary cap regulations which have become more stringent during the pandemic.

Messi revealed on Sunday that he had offered to take a pay cut in order to prolong his stay at Barcelona.

“I offered to reduce my salary by 50 per cent, but they didn’t ask me for anything else,” he said. “The news I asked for 30 per cent more is a lie, a lot of things people are saying are not true.”

Messi wouldn’t have been able to take any more than a 50 per cent cut due to a clause in Spanish employment law that is in place to avoid financial manipulation.

Even if Messi had offered to play the 2021-22 season without a salary, Barcelona would not have met La Liga’s salary regulations. Had Messi stayed, Barcelona’s annual salary would have accounted for 110 per cent of their income, but even with him off the books, the remaining figure is still 95 per cent. To comply with La Liga’s regulations, they need to bring it down to 70 per cent.

This mess has arisen as a consequence of Barcelona’s extravagant spending during the calamitous Josep Maria Bartomeu era. Bartomeu, the president from 2014-2020, and his board were ousted last October after a vote of no confidence from club members.

Barcelona have spent over €1bn on transfer fees since 2014 and in recent windows have tried desperately to shift big signings who have not made the desired impact. Philippe Coutinho (£142m from Liverpool in 2018), Ousmane Dembele (£120m from Borussia Dortmund in 2017) and Antoine Griezmann (£100m from Atletico Madrid in 2019) have all underwhelmed.

Antoine Griezmann has failed to live up to expectations since joining Barcelona (Photo: Getty)

Messi has at times seemingly carried Barcelona entirely on his shoulders, but his wages have also caused the club problems. According to a report in the Financial Times, Messi’s wages tripled during Bartomeu’s tenure and he earned more than €555m between 2017-21.

Barcelona have managed to shift some deadwood this summer with Junior Firpo joining Leeds, Jean-Clair Todibo moving to Nice and Carles Alena signing for Getafe. The reality, though, is that it is not nearly enough.

And somewhat bizarrely, they have brought four new players in – Memphis Depay, Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia and Emerson Royal – without yet being able to register them for the new season due to their sky-high wage bill.

Laporta outlined the bleak reality of Barcelona’s situation in a press conference on Friday when he addressed supporters for the first time since the Messi announcement.

“I said we’d do everything possible to keep Messi at Barça within the economic situation of club,” he said.

“We reached agreement but couldn’t formalise it, because of the club’s economic situation, which means we can’t register the player due to salary limits. I don’t want to go on and on about the situation we inherited, and the awful decisions that were made in the past. We have gone from bad to worse.”

Ultimately, Barcelona have learnt the harshest possible lesson from years of chronic financial mismanagement with their greatest ever player leaving against his will.

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