How international Brendan Aaronson In a friendly match against Barcelona in Austria on August 4, 2021, Salzburg unexpectedly won, the activity of Barcelona president Joan Laporta on the phone alerted other members of the club’s visiting delegation of the problem. Less than 24 hours later, the nature of Laporta’s furious calls became clear when the Catalan club made a statement that shocked football: Lionel Messi Left.

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Messi, then 34, spent 20 years at Barcelona, ​​having arrived from Argentina as a teenager. During this time, he became the club’s all-time fixture and top scorer with 672 goals in 778 games. He won four Champions League titles and 11 La Liga titles, and was named the best player in the world six times (and for the seventh time since leaving). Barça without Messi was unthinkable; Messi playing in another club’s shirt was unimaginable.

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Midfielder of Barcelona Frankie de Jong, who was picking up the family from the airport, did not believe the news when he heard it. Attack Sergio Aguero, who had just signed for Barça due in part to playing with his longtime friend Messi, was with Spanish Twitch streamer Ibay Llanos when the news broke, and like De Jong, he too refused to believe it. He even thought that the Barça website had been hacked. Still in denial, Aguero decided it must be a tactic to convince La Liga to let Barca sign Messi, given his importance to Spanish football.

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As it turned out, neither one nor the other. Barça, with a debt of 1.35 billion euros, after several years of cost overruns and the financial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, simply could not afford to sign a new contract with Messi and were forced to let him go to French side Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer. . .

A year later, the move left a big mark on his former club in Spain and his new club in France, while Messi’s future after the 2022/23 season also looks more murky than ever. His contract with PSG expires on 30 June 2023, but there is an option to extend it for another season. But before we get there, Sportzshala’s Sam Marsden and Julien Lawrence explain how we got here.

This story used reports and information from Moises Llorens and Eduardo Fernandez-Abascal.

How did it happen

“The warning signs were in Salzburg,” one of the club’s executives told Sportzshala. “It was then that it became clear that everything was complicated.

“After a few hours, everything went like clockwork, until Vice President Rafa Yuste and Laporta called Jorge, Messi’s father and agent. Nobody likes it. When the expedition returned to Barcelona from Salzburg, it was all over. Around 18:00 in the club’s statement dated August 5, the chapter on the greatest player in the history of Barça was closed.

Messi’s sudden departure was all the more remarkable as he had already agreed to the terms of a new contract with a 50 per cent pay cut to help Barca economically, given that his previous contract effectively expired on 30 June. August 5, Jorge had to fly to Barcelona from Argentina to complete the deal.

“Jorge had an early afternoon meeting with Laporta and a notary from Barcelona to discuss a two-year contract and sign the paperwork,” a source involved in the talks told Sportzshala. “Negotiations were long, but with the election of Laporta in March, everything seemed fine. But when Jorge landed, Laporta called him: “Jorge, don’t go to the notary, the situation at the club is not the best and we won’t be able to sign the agreement, I’m sorry.” Jorge then called his son to tell him the news.”

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Even a year later, there are discrepancies as to exactly when Laporta realized that Messi could not renew his contract with the club. Everyone consulted by Sportzshala agreed that Messi and his teammates were taken aback by the development, but different sources have different timelines regarding Laporta.

The official story is that he did everything he could until the last minute, but the only way out was to accept the La Liga deal with CVC, which would transfer 10% of the rights to Barça’s domestic television. Laporta was always reluctant to sign this deal. However, other sources suggest that Laporta and those closest to him realized much earlier that it would be financially difficult to renew Messi’s contract.

The irony of Messi’s departure was that he wanted to stay, unlike in the summer of 2020 when, under ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu, he asked to leave via the infamous Bureaufax. He even negotiated with Josep Guardiola for a move to Manchester City.

A year later, on 8 August, three days after Barça’s announcement, Messi cried his eyes out as he said goodbye to the club at a press conference in which De Jong and Aguero were in attendance along with other former teammates. On August 10, he signed a contract with PSG.

“Messi was confident he would stay,” a locker room source told Sportzshala. “He talked to people about getting back to work after signing the contract. This never happened. The President did not keep his word. Bureaufax [transfer request], Messi was convinced he wanted to leave. He made a decision. He stayed when he wanted to leave and left when he wanted to stay.”

— Sam Marsden

Why did Messi leave Barcelona?

Messi wanted to leave in 2020 due to what he called a lie on the part of Bartomeu and the inability to build a trophy-winning team around him. Barça had just lost to Bayern Munich 8-2 ​​in the Champions League in 2020, but Messi left the following year due to debts the same board had accumulated that rejected his request to leave.

This situation was inherited by Laporta. Barça were already overspending before Neymar signed for PSG for a record €222m in 2017. As the pandemic hit and revenues plummeted, spending, including Messi’s four-year €550m contract, quickly became untenable. The club’s financial situation, as well as Messi’s desire to leave and a trophy-free campaign, led to a fan movement that resulted in Bartomeu being removed as club president at the end of 2020.

Enter Laporta, whose charisma and showmanship do not extend to a quick fix to the club’s money crisis. Last summer, Barca needed a massive loan from Goldman Sachs just to meet their wage needs, and in 2020-21 they lost €487m. Back in June, Laporta described the club as “clinically dead,” although he predicted they would soon be in and out of the intensive care unit. He has since signed Robert LewandowskiRafinha and Jules Kunde for more than €150 million in the current transfer window following the sale of 25% of the club’s domestic television shares and another 25% of its own production company, Barca Studios, for a total of around €700 million.

Sources said there was simply not enough time last summer to carry out operations of this magnitude to keep Messi. The activation of “economic levers” this summer – the sale of a share of television rights and Barca Studios – required not only negotiations, but also the approval of the club members. This consent was received in June of this year.

Other sources explained that Laporta did not expect La Liga’s financial rules to be so strict. Messi left not because Barca were in debt per se, but because those debts contributed to lowering the spending ceiling. Their La Liga wage cap was cut from nearly €600m to under €100m at the start of last season, meaning they were only allowed to spend 25% of what they saved. Even with a 50% pay cut, Messi’s contract could not be registered with the league.

However, there was one way out. La Liga would give Barca a salary slot if they accepted an agreement with CVC that would see Barca receive more than €200m in exchange for 10% of their television rights for 50 years. Laporta said that this would be the key to the future of the club. Barça, Real Madrid and Athletic said no, but the other 17 La Liga teams signed an agreement.

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Messi’s devastation was sincere when he left, sources said, but others have since wondered why he didn’t do more to stay. He said he did his best by accepting the club’s proposed pay cut, but could he have gone any further? Maybe a little, but the La Liga algorithm wouldn’t let him play for free.

“Salary can be reduced, but due to financial control rules, each player has the potential for a reduction based on various variables such as age, experience and titles,” a league spokesman told Sportzshala. “So you can’t play for free or at a ‘lower’ wage than what the said player should be playing in a normal market. intangible money.

— Sam Marsden

Impact on Barcelona

Messi was a shy, frizzy-haired teenager when he broke into the Barcelona squad, but he soon turned into the dressing room leader. He wasn’t always the loudest, but the players felt his presence and he had an aura around him that only top athletes have.

“It was a huge blow to everyone,” a coaching source told Sportzshala of the first few days after Messi left. “The first session without him was like a funeral. The next day it became known that Guardiola was not going to remain a coach. [in 2012]. There was silence, no jokes. People didn’t believe what was happening.”

However, some sources also said that training sessions were often tuned to Messi’s rhythm. Without him, it was a bit like starting over.