By Andrew Warshaw
September 7 – As footballing u-turns go, they don’t come much more spectacular. Just as millions of fans worldwide were in the throes of anticipating where Lionel Messi might end up after he dropped the bombshell that he wanted to leave his beloved Barcelona, so the Argentine maestro changed his mind and said he was staying after all.
But is it for the right reasons?
Having heaped scorn on their lack of success last season, culminating in that 8-2 Champions League trouncing by Bayern Munich, Messi has pledged to give his best for his childhood club for one more season. But the bottom line is that no-one could afford him.
Messi was under the impression that he could leave Barca on a free transfer. Hence the intense speculation about whether he was on his way to Manchester City to link up again with his old boss, Pep Guardiola.
Unfortunately for the six-time world player of the year, Barca thought differently, citing a clause in Messi’s contract that obliged him to inform the club of his intention before June 10. He didn’t do that, meaning that if he chose to leave without the required notice, any club chasing him would have to pay an eye-watering €700 million, his buyout fee.
Not even moneybags City, who were strongly rumoured to have lined up a bid to sign Messi on a free transfer and make him the highest paid player in world sport, could afford that sort of straight-up fee. Nor presumably could Paris St. Germain, also bankrolled by Middle East money.
The stand-off meant the situation could only be resolved if Messi took Barca to court to get his way. That was anathema to him so he stays where he is.
“I thought and was sure that I was free to leave, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I stayed or not. Now they cling to the fact that I did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 we were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season,” Messi explained in an interview with ‘Goal’.
“There was another way and it was to go to trial. I would never go to court against Barca because it is the club that I love, which gave me everything since I arrived. I know that it never crossed my mind to take Barca to court.”
Maybe not but it seems abundantly clear that only contractual complications stopped Messi from walking out. Whether that means Barca will get the best of him next season remains to be seen.
If they don’t, it will be a no-win situation for all concerned: the player, the club and whichever suitor was hoping to employ him. At least for another year anyway.
Contact the writer of this story at firstname.lastname@example.org