Rewind to almost exactly a year ago and the delayed 2020 Champions League Quarterfinals proved to be the graveyard of FC Barcelona yet again. This time, a merciless 8-2 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich was quite possibly the most humiliating and shocking score in Champions League history. The Catalan club, Barcelona, was at their lowest point in recent memory, going trophyless for the first time in years. They had failed to defend their La Liga title, getting outbested by a mediocre Real Madrid side after falling short in the Copa del Rey Quarterfinals against Athletic Bilbao several months before. This was accompanied by continual heavy defeats in the Champions League knockout stages every year with the 8-2 mauling by Bayern Munich being the painful climax.
The president of Barcelona, Josep Maria Bartomeu, and his board are mostly to blame for this persistent decline of one of the best teams in world football with their short-sighted business dealings and lack of professionalism. But even as the fans begged, Bartomeu and his board refused to resign. Both Barcelona fans and players alike knew that Bartomeu did not have the club’s best interests in mind, and the only direction was down.
But then the bombshell report came out shortly after the Bayern defeat — Barcelona’s star and greatest player ever, Lionel Messi, wanted out. Seeking to activate a loophole in his contract, which allowed him to leave for free on his own accord, Messi wanted to leave the club he loves because of his differences with Bartomeu and his assessment of Bartomeu’s judgment only spelling further despair for Barcelona.
However, it wasn’t as easy as once thought because Messi’s contract said he could leave only if he notified the club before June, the end of the season. But since the COVID-19 Outbreak postponed world football and Barcelona’s season ended in August, Messi and his lawyers thought the claim still held weight. Nevertheless, Messi knew that if he took this to court he most likely would have won, but he did not want to drag his beloved club into a long and bloody legal battle. Therefore, he stated he will stay in Barcelona.
Then, in October of 2020, Bartomeu and his board relented and announced they will step down. Barcelona later elected former president, Joan Laporta as their new president in March 2021 much to the delight of many fans and players, including Messi himself. Laporta was the president who oversaw and ushered in Barcelona’s most successful period in their history in the late 2000s and early 2010s. He also has a good relationship with the Barcelona Number 10. And while the 2020/21 Season wasn’t perfect, Barcelona still greatly improved since the previous season, and the club looked like they could only get better. Furthermore, Messi looked to be fully invested in Laporta’s project and doubts of his departure diminished to almost improbable.
But this summer proved that we should never underestimate how badly Bartomeu’s legacy could affect this club, even after he left. As Messi was negotiating a new contract with Barcelona, it became aware that the club’s wage bill was astronomical. La Liga has a strict salary cap for each club and Barcelona far beyond exceeded it. This meant that Barcelona could not register Messi as a player for the current season;, Laporta banked on La Liga allowing Barcelona some leeway in Messi’s case, given the massive profit he brings to the Spanish League, but they did not budge. In possibly the toughest decision of his career, Laporta had to let Messi go even as both the club and Messi himself wanted to stay. And in an emotional press conference, Messi was reduced to tears, saying goodbye to the club he spent his entire senior career as a footballer.
In swooped Paris Saint-Germain who are building their own project, aiming to become the best team in Europe. Flexing their financial muscle, the French giants signed the Argentine superstar, officially announcing him as a PSG player two weeks ago, ending an era of Lionel Messi’s dominance as the King of Barcelona.
Why was Messi Forced to Leave Barcelona?
Bartomeu’s reign as Barcelona’s president reaped deep consequences that the club will have to deal with for years to come, even as Bartomeu himself and his board are long gone. Multiple terrible and expensive signings and negligent mismanagement of Barcelona’s funds have left the club in debt soaring as high as 1 billion Euros by the beginning of this month. This sole issue is actually why Barcelona joined the failed European Super League back in April. Even more damaging though, was Bartomeu’s handling of player wages. Many players were given monstrous amounts of money each week, many of whom didn’t perform well enough on the pitch to deserve those amounts. Not only did this make some of these players impossible to sell on, but it led to the situation we are in currently with La Liga.
La Liga imposed a strict salary cap for all its clubs and Barcelona’s wage bill went far over the limit, meaning that Barcelona had to either cut their player’s wages or sell some big names. It was almost impossible to sell players like Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti as they are in terrible form and few clubs were willing to pay their sky-high wages. Some of the players could have taken a pay cut but they refused. And while this would have helped the club, you cannot force a player to lower his own wages, that is not right, especially when the club is the reason why they are so high. Even if they did lower their wages, the bill was so high it would not be enough. Laporta had assumed that he could cut a deal with Javier Tebas, the president of La Liga, which could see the league excuse Messi’s wages given the amount of profit he alone brings into the Spanish league every year. But Tebas stuck to his guns.
So came the unfortunate but necessary final option — sell Messi, the highest-paid player at Barcelona. It was reported that Messi even took a 50 percent pay cut, yet even this was not enough and his exit was the only way. Even as Messi left, lifting a massive burden, the problem still wasn’t fully resolved and the new captain, Gerard Pique, was forced to take a 50 percent pay cut himself just so that new signings, Eric Garcia and Memphis Depay, could be registered a day before Barcelona’s opening game of the La Liga season last week.
Messi is already 34 years old, so Barcelona fans knew that he was not going to be around forever, yet the way in which he left was what was so painful. Messi had hinted in the past that would either like to retire at Barcelona or end his career at his boyhood club, Newell’s Old Boys back in Argentina. Yet instead, he has been forced out due to Bartomeu’s financial mismanagement. Messi didn’t get a proper send-off in the Camp Nou like Andres Iniesta or Xavi Creus did. Instead, Messi’s last match at the Camp Nou was a limp 2-1 loss to Celta Vigo where Barcelona basically surrendered the title race at the end of last season. There weren’t even any fans in the stadium due to Spain’s COVID restrictions.
But as he left, PSG quickly proved to be the only possible destination. Only a few clubs across the world could ever afford Messi’s wages, but the abrupt nature of his unexpected departure meant most clubs were not prepared. The day before Barcelona announced his departure, Manchester City spent had just 100 million Euros on their English Number 10, Jack Grealish, while Manchester United went on their own spending spree last month. The Italian giants, Juventus and Inter Milan are both in financial crises leaving only PSG as the sole winner.
Lionel Messi’s Legacy at Barcelona
To say that Barcelona benefitted from Lionel Messi would be an understatement. Simply put, Messi took the club to an entirely new level never charted before in football history. He is no doubt the greatest player in Barcelona’s history. While he was not alone of course and was surrounded by a talented cast, Messi was the catalyst that transformed Barcelona as well as the world of football; in fact, many consider Messi to be the best footballer of all time.
To put it into perspective, FC Barcelona as a football club has existed since 1899 and they have a total of 96 major trophies. But since making his first-team debut with Barcelona in 2004, Messi has won 35 trophies, meaning that nearly a third of Barcelona’s trophies are because of the Argentinian Number 10.
Hailing from Rosario, Argentina, Messi’s talent was apparent from a young age playing for the youth team of his local club, Newell’s Old Boys. His career could have ended before it began when a hormone deficiency threatened his growth, but a scout from Barcelona cut a deal with his parents where Messi would play for the team in Spain while they would also pay for his treatment. Famously, the scout was so eager to sign Messi he wrote the contract on a napkin.
Raising up the youth ranks in Barcelona’s youth program, La Masia, Messi quickly was integrated into the first team, exploding onto the scene with a hat trick against Barcelona’s heated rivals Real Madrid in 2007 at just 17. But Messi would taste extreme success for the first time in 2009 under the new manager Pep Guardiola in a stacked team featuring the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Carles Puyol, Thierry Henry and many others, winning the sextuple, meaning that Barcelona won all six possible trophies they could: the Champions League, La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Super Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the Club World Cup, a feat never achieved before. As a result, Messi won his first Ballon d’Or in 2009, the award given to the best player of the year.
Barcelona would continue to dominate world football for the next few years and would conquer Europe yet again in 2011 with Messi at the center of everything. Barcelona overcame Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, yet again in the final, with Messi yet again scoring the decisive goal. This 2011 team, built upon the success of the 2009 predecessor, while not having won as many trophies, is considering by many to be the greatest football team ever put together.
Then in 2015, Messi would build possibly the deadliest attacking trio in the history of football with Neymar Jr. and Luis Suarez, scoring an obscene amount of goals and winning more trophies, winning the treble yet again as Barcelona became the first team to win two trebles. Even as Barcelona regressed as a club from 2017 to the current year, Messi was the linchpin at the Catalan capital, dragging the club from the depths and saving them on numerous occasions and continuing to win trophy after trophy.
When you total up everything he has done for the club, Messi was won 10 La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, seven Copas del Rey, eight Spanish Super Cups, three UEFA Super Cups and three Club World Cups. He has more appearances for Barcelona than any other player with 778 and he is Barcelona’s top scorer with 672 goals. He also won six Ballon d’Ors and Pichichis (La Liga Top Scorer).
To list all of Messi’s records would take a few more pages but one record in particular which really puts how immense he was for Barcelona into perspective was his goal-scoring record in 2012. Normally, if a striker were to score 40+ goals in a calendar year while playing in a top league, they would be considered one of the best players in the world, most likely a Ballon d’Or contender as well. But in 2012, Lionel Messi scored an incredible 91 goals in only 69 games. A record that will likely never be broken.
What Messi’s Move Means for PSG and the Rest of World Football
Before Messi’s arrival, PSG already had one of the best teams in the world, one could even argue the best in terms of player quality. But with Messi, they have the best squad by far and there is absolutely no debate. Messi joins his close friend and former teammate, Neymar, and as his countryman, Angel Di Maria, as well as the best young player in the world, Kylian Mbappe (if he stays). The likely starting front three of Messi, Neymar and Mbappe will induce more fear into defenses than any other attacking trio across the world, and if one were to create a list of the top five best players in the world, these three players will all be in it. It is simply unfair.
Although it must be said that given Neymar already wear the Number 10 at PSG, Messi has been given the Number 30 shirt as an homage to the first squad number he wore for Barcelona back in 2004. Some fans have taken this to be a bad omen since Messi is synonymous with the 10 shirt.
As often with big transfers, Messi to PSG is currently causing a transfer window domino effect as we speak. Now that they have Messi, PSG are no longer against Kylian Mbappe leaving, as long as it is for the right price. And as of Wednesday, Aug. 25, Real Madrid have submitted a staggering 160 million Euro bid for the French youngster which was denied by the Parisians for being too low. Another club who are hunting their first-ever Champions League, Manchester City, look to counter PSG’s most recent transfer by enticing Messi’s rival, Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus. Given Man City’s rumored pursuit of Ronaldo and stalling discussions, transfer talks with Tottenham Hotspur have broken down meaning Harry Kane will remain put in London, despite submitting a transfer request at the beginning of the summer. On a sadder note, Lionel Messi’s best friend Sergio Aguero, who is nearing the end of his career, joined Barcelona in June simply to wind down his playing days with his Argentinian compatriot. He is now rumored to be forcing a transfer away from his new club upon Messi’s exit, likely going to the MLS in the upcoming winter transfer window.