Lionel Messi reacts after Bayern Munich’s third goal against his Barcelona during the UEFA Champions … [+] League quarter-final on August 14, 2020. (Photo by Manu Fernandez)
Lionel Messi wants out of Barcelona—that much is true. But whether that’s possible, given the soccer star’s current contract, is messy.
Messi today sent FC Barcelona a burofax, the equivalent of a piece of certified mail that requires the recipient’s signature, stating that he wants to leave and not play out the last year of his contract, sources with the club confirmed to Forbes.
But when Messi signed a contract extension in 2017 that committed him to Camp Nou through the 2020-21 season—and made him the world’s highest-earning soccer player on the pitch—a new exit clause was added. It allowed him to leave for nothing this summer as long as he communicated that decision before June 10, 2020, a date that club sources confirmed to Forbes and that is later than previously publicly reported.
That date passed without word from Messi, so in Barcelona’s view, the option to leave for free expired. The club says he is legally bound under contract to the club until June 30, 2021.
The matter is now in the hands of Barcelona’s legal team, which was unavailable for comment. But the club’s official stance is that Messi is not for sale and that any interested parties will have to pay his full $828 million release clause, a record in the sport. The sources said they were unaware of any offer from any other club for Messi at this time.
The news of Messi requesting to leave comes as no surprise after a rocky season at Camp Nou that included a dust-up over the midseason appointment of manager Quique Setién that ended with his dismissal last week; a smear campaign against Messi and his wife, reportedly dialed up by the club itself; and the tipping point, an embarrassing 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich that put an early finish to Barça’s Champions League title hopes. It was the first season in 12 years that Messi failed to win a trophy, one for which he took a 70% cut in base pay—$11 million—after the coronavirus pandemic halted play for three months.
Forbes values Barcelona at $4.02 billion, and few other teams can afford Messi’s sky-high wages, particularly as clubs face a revenue shortfall while returning to play without fans in the stands amid the pandemic. But Manchester City, and a reunion with manager Pep Guardiola, has emerged as the clear favorite to pry Messi away, according to ESPN. One hurdle: UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations, which were established in 2009 to prevent clubs from spending more than they earn and getting into financial problems by doing so.
Owned by holding company City Football Group, which is majority owned by Abu Dhabi’s royal family, Man City just recently saw its two-year Champions League ban overturned; UEFA had said the club violated the FFP rules by misrepresenting the source of its sponsorship income, breaking club licensing rules. According to Forbes’ latest estimates, Manchester City made $678 million in revenue in 2019—$72.6 million in total from playing in the Champions League as it reached the quarterfinals—and it is the fifth-most-valuable soccer team in the world, with an overall franchise value of nearly $2.7 billion.
Barcelona is planning to pay Messi $92 million this upcoming season—an amount that would help make him the fourth athlete to earn more than $1 billion in career earnings, pre-tax. About a third of his salary is in the form of performance incentives, which the star forward has been consistently earning, posting 12 consecutive seasons with at least 31 goals and hitting 700 career goals in June, joining Ronaldo as the only active players at that level. After 16 years, Messi’s name is on top of every conceivable club scoring record and on 34 trophies in the team’s case, including six La Liga and two Champions League titles. He has won the Ballon d’Or a record six times.
Speaking to the press last week, new Barça manager Ronald Koeman held out hope Messi would stay, saying, “He is the best player in the world, and the best player in the world you want in your team; you don’t want him playing against you.”
I spent the first half of my life trying to be an athlete so I could become the second woman after Mary Lou Retton to appear on the front of a Wheaties box. I failed at
I spent the first half of my life trying to be an athlete so I could become the second woman after Mary Lou Retton to appear on the front of a Wheaties box. I failed at that, and softball, basketball, volleyball, track, ice skating and cheerleading in the process. Looking back, the only thing amazing about my persistent pursuit of sporting glory was my lack of self-awareness. I only ever made a team after my second time trying out, when I showed up the next year with my much more athletic younger sister. (True story: she played as my proxy on Forbes’ softball team one season.) After my closest attempt at sporting success came in a spelling bee (thank you ESPN for televising and giving that sport cred), I finally decided to take the advice of all those coaches who told me I had the brains and benchwarmer’s big mouth better suited for sideline competition. Now after studying business at Drexel University and journalism at NYU, I compete for bylines, primarily writing about the business of sports. As for my sporting endeavor, I decided to focus on the one where I only compete with myself: running. I can be seen crossing the finish line of my front door celebrating my first place victory a few mornings a week…then eating a bowl of Wheaties, because « that’s what big girls eat. »
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