Why did Lionel Messi leave Barcelona? Explaining the events between Messi and La Liga club

Sona Balakhchyan
It seemed like it would only take days, if not hours, before Lionel Messi, a free agent, would announce that he would not be returning to Barcelona eight days before the new league season began.

The club released a Messi tribute video a short time later, cementing the previously unimaginable fact that Messi and Barcelona are now going their separate ways after 21 consecutive years.

Marca, a Spanish newspaper based in Barcelona, reported that Messi signing was impossible. A couple of hours later, the club announced and pointed the finger at La Liga, the Spanish league.

Barcelona blames La Liga

Barcelona stated in clear terms that they wanted to sign a contract with Messi. However, league regulations prevented Messi from doing so.

Barcelona released the following statement: “Despite FC Barcelona’s agreement with Lionel Messi and their clear intent to sign a new contract today,” it said.

“Messi will not continue at FC Barcelona because of this situation. Both the player and club deeply regret that their wishes will not be realized.

La Liga rules were adopted in 2013 and imposed a floating salary limit for all teams. It limits the wages of players and reduces acquisition costs by 70 percent.

FC Barcelona, which had to pay well over $200m in salary to sign Messi to meet the COVID-19-related revenue reductions, entered the summer offseason with this goal. However, the Blaugrana did not have much transfer activity in Europe, so on August 5, both the player and the club realized that this signing was impossible.

Technically speaking, it’s not La Liga that is at fault. However, FC Barcelona failed to follow La Liga regulations.

Many believed that the massive private equity investment made into La Liga and its clubs by the day before was helping Barcelona achieve the financial breakthrough it needed almost to guarantee the Messi deal. Barcelona was projected to benefit from a cash infusion exceeding $300 million based on La Liga’s revenue-sharing formulas. Fifteen percent of that money would be used to sign players.

Interestingly, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and the European Super League’s founder members opposed the private equity agreement with CVC Capital Partners. CVC Capital Partners is expected to receive 10 percent of La Liga’s media revenue in exchange. La Liga’s 42 clubs still approved the plan, 38 to 4. (Oviedo joined Real Madrid and Barcelona in voting against). The “LaLigaimpulso” will not be open to the four clubs that voted against it.

According to observers, the acceptance of the money would have resulted in the two financial giants permanently attaching themselves financially to La Liga over the coming decades and forgoing their Super League ambitions. This explanation explains why Barcelona, more than $1 billion indebted, wouldn’t accept the money. The projected cash advance for the Super League would have been the same.

The Barcelona-Messi talk was just for show?

Barcelona knew that Messi would not be signed and that his salary would not exceed its budget. Barcelona could not accommodate Messi due to how the transfer season was going.

Barca did not announce the news until one week before the season began. This puts the blame squarely on La Liga’s stringent rules. Some media speculate that this false hope was a PR stunt to help club management deal with the backlash from the fans that would follow the forced departure of Barcelona’s most important player. Officials at the club showed that they tried their best to make it fair in the court of public perception.

Some people have even suggested that Messi knew that he would never sign with Barcelona. Perhaps he wanted the opportunity to leave the club during the ongoing rebuilding process. The “La Liga regulations” give Messi a way to go the club while still maintaining his goodwill with the fans.

Messi was a free agent and didn’t have to accept a cut in his pay. He received a large-money offer from PSG.

Was Barcelona calling La Liga’s bluff?

Another group of cynics believes that the Barcelona statement was an attempt by La Liga to change its rules or make an exception for their club.

La Liga, as an enterprise, cannot afford to lose Messi. This is especially true when it recently signed a $175 million-per-year TV rights agreement with ESPN over eight years worth $1.4 billion. Without Messi, what value would La Liga have?

Javier Tebas, president of La Liga, has insisted that there be no bending of rules or special treatment for Messi and Barcelona. Barcelona was most likely to call his bluff with its back against the wall. This was primarily because Tebas’s position was buoyed through the private investment deal. Rule changes one week before the season began were unlikely.

The next day, Barcelona president Joan Laporta said that he didn’t believe there would be a return at his press conference. “The negotiations have ended with Messi, and it’s brought me here without an agreement due to the [La Liga] salary limit. Leo wanted to remain, so he wasn’t happy. He wanted to stay. But now, just like us, he has to face the reality of what happened. It’s a reality that cannot be changed.”

What is the difference between last summer’s Messi drama and this one?

The scenario was different last year. Messi decided to leave Barcelona in 2020. He had one year remaining on his six-year, $675 million contract. He claimed that he had made a verbal arrangement with Josep Bartomeu, his then-president, to honor the clause and free him from his contract.

Bartomeu wouldn’t let the Barcelona legend go, so Messi refused to sue the club and decided to stay on for an extra season.

Many believed that Bartomeu’s departure and Joan Laporta’s taking his place earlier in the year would mean that Laporta would find a way for Messi to stay at Barcelona. Barcelona enjoyed its most successful run in history due to his close relationship with him during Bartomeu’s previous tenure as club president.

Maybe Laporta knew the outcome even though he campaigned for the presidency based on his ability to give the club the best chance of keeping Messi. Laporta (below) knew that the financial situation he inherited was fragile. On August 6, Laporta spoke out to the media and described a financial state that was far worse than he believed. He cited losses of $572 million in 2020-2021.

Laporta did not leave any room for a possible Messi return during this somber meeting with the media. He spoke of how Messi was receiving interest from other clubs, but he did not share details. Laporta mentioned that Barcelona would honor Messi and give him a proper send-off with his fans.

In that press conference, the blame game was shifted dramatically. Laporta stated that he respected La Liga’s ‘financial equal play’ roster rules. While they were ultimately responsible for Messi’s inability to sign, the previous two club administrations caused financial problems. Laporta made it clear that Messi’s signing would not have been a problem if it weren’t for their poor management. He pointed out that he kept his end of the deal by agreeing with Messi. Because of budget rules for La Liga, it was impossible to implement the agreement.

Private equity money funneled into La Liga would have been beneficial, but Laporta stated that Barcelona isn’t interested in it. He said that the club didn’t agree to the financial arrangement, explicitly giving up 10% of La Liga’s media revenue to CVC Capital Partners as part of the deal.

Laporta stated that it would not be in Barca’s best interests. We were expecting to be paid some money, but we don’t think we can accept it. It would also affect our television rights revenues for the next 50 years. It is too risky. “The club is above coaches, players, and presidents.”

Messi’s sad farewell

Messi was the one to tell his story during a tearful press conference in Barcelona on August 8.

Messi stated that he didn’t want to leave but that it was now sure that he would play in the UEFA Champions League for a competitor to Barcelona’s because he wants the trophies to continue to be won. Although he said that several clubs had approached him, including Paris Saint-Germain and PSG, he did not confirm the news.

I’m really sad because I didn’t want to go. He said, “This is the club that I love. I didn’t expect this. I have never lied. I am honest and open-minded. Last year, I wanted to go. This year, I decided not to. This is why I feel so sad. The club has debt problems, as the president Jean Laporta has stated. It is impossible. It’s almost impossible. Why do we keep trying to draw it out? Barca refused to continue the talks. It was impossible because they knew La Liga wouldn’t allow it to happen. I tried everything to stay, but it was impossible. Barca accepted my offer to reduce my salary by 50 percent. They didn’t request another 30%. This is a fabrication. I didn’t want to go, but I had to. I want to win. This is my mentality. I want to win.”

Barcelona fans were left with some encouraging words from Messi about the future. “My family and I were certain we would stay here; that was what we wanted most.

He said, “We are at home here.” “Now, I must say goodbye to all this. Since I was 13, I’ve been here. With my wife and three small Catalan-Argentine children, I’m leaving after 21 years. We will be back, and it is not possible to say no. This is our home. I made a promise to my children that I would.

He said,

“Barca is one of the most talented teams in the world. They have an incredible side. More players will be coming, not only now, but also in the future. Players move and come and go. Laporta stated that no one player comes before the club. It will initially be strange, but people will soon get used to it.”

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