The world of football received a tremendous shock on August 5, 2021 when it was announced that Lionel Messi was set to leave FC Barcelona because of financial problems and that they couldn’t register him with La Liga due to issues surrounding Financial Fair Play.
Back in the summer of 2021, Lionel Messi had fulfilled one of his biggest dreams after leading Argentina to an international trophy for the first time in his career. Messi played an outstanding role behind La Albiceleste winning the Copa America and he ended a 28-year trophy drought for his country.
It also only seemed like a matter of time before Messi would extend his contract with the club of his life Barcelona and that the story would continue until the end of his career. However, things took a U turn extremely quickly as within less than 24 hours of what was supposed to be a formal contractual re-signing, Barcelona announced that they couldn’t afford to keep Messi and had to let him go.
Although it has been over a year and a half since his departure from Barcelona and his arrival in Paris, the details surrounding his tumultuous exit still remain cloudy. But why did Messi leave Barcelona and what were the reasons that forced his exit?
Lionel Messi in Barcelona: By Numbers
Why did Messi leave Barcelona in 2021: How it happened
On one fine evening on August 5, 2021, Barcelona announced via their social media that Lionel Messi was leaving as a free agent and that he couldn’t be registered with the league because of their dire economic problems. The tweet sent shockwaves around the world of football as nobody could see it coming. Not even the players and teammates of Messi in Barcelona.
Frenkie De Jong, Jordi Alba, and Sergio Busquets all thought it was a joke at first while Sergio Aguero, who had signed with the club that season partly with the idea of spending his last few years playing alongside his best friend Messi at club level, insisted on a live stream that the club website must’ve been hacked.
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However, after some time, the reality dawned on everyone. Spontaneously and out of the blue, Barcelona fans seemed to be struck by lightning.
Messi’s departure was all the more surprising given that the player had recently agreed on terms to sign a new two-year deal with Barcelona and had even decided to reduce his salary by 50% in order to help the club out economically. His previous contract had expired on June 30 and on August 5, Messi along with his family and his father, Jorge, who also serves as his agent, landed in Barcelona from vacation with the intention of renewing his contract as soon as possible.
“Messi was certain he was staying,” a dressing room source told ESPN. “He had spoken with people about getting back to work after signing the contract. That never happened. The president didn’t live up to his word. He promised Messi would be able to sign, but it fell through. The summer before, with the Burofax [transfer request], Messi was convinced he wanted to leave. His mind was made up. He stayed when he wanted to go and he left when he wanted to stay.”
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On August 8, Barcelona held a press conference for Messi where the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner cried his eyes out on having to bid goodbye to the club of his life. He had spent 21 years with Barcelona since arriving from Argentina as a teenager and was both the leading appearance-maker for the club as well as its record goal-scorer, scoring 672 goals in 778 games.
Lionel Messi had achieve tremendous success, taking Barcelona to new heights. With him, the club won four Champions League trophies and 11 La Liga titles, among a whole host of other silverware.
The economic reasons behind Messi leaving Barcelona
The irony is that Lionel Messi had actually wanted to leave Barcelona in 2020 because of what he perceived as continuously incompetent management of the club and perceived lies of the former board led by President Josep Maria Bartomeu. Messi was close to signing with Manchester City and had even sent a burofax to the club, informing them about this. However, the board refused to grant his request to depart, and he ended up staying because he didn’t want to take his beloved club to court.
New presidential elections were held and former President Joan Laporta, under whose presidency Messi had made his first-team debut in 2003, was re-elected on the promise that he would do everything possible to renew the Argentine superstar.
However, when Laporta actually took charge, he realised that the economic situation was much worse than he had anticipated. The La Liga club needed to borrow a substantial loan from Goldman Sachs just to meet payroll requirements for that summer, and they posted losses of €487m in 2020-21.
As a result, it became apparent that registering Messi at Barcelona was going to become a major problem. Laporta hadn’t expected La Liga’s financial fair play regulations to be so strict. Although the intention from both parties was to sign a new contract, it was revealed that Messi’s new contract wouldn’t be registered with La Liga not because the club was in debt, but because those debts contributed to a reduced spending cap.
All clubs in La Liga have a maximum spending cap implemented on them in order to keep terms with Financial Fair Play. As a result, the club’s was reduced by over 83 per cent and it went from almost €600m to under €100m at the start of the 2021/22 season. It implied that the club was permitted to spend only 25 per cent of what they saved, which is now known as the 1/4 rule of La Liga. Because of these reasons, Messi’s contract, even with a 50% pay cut, couldn’t be registered with La Liga and he had to leave Barcelona.
It was also reported that there was one way out for the club and Messi. La Liga president Javier Tebas had communicated to Laporta that they would have provided Barcelona with more salary space if they had accepted an agreement with CVC. The deal was that the company would provide over €200m in exchange for 10% of their television rights for 50 years, a deal that almost all clubs in La Liga besides three teams signed.
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However, President Joan Laporta viewed it as mortgaging the future of the club and decided that nobody, not even the greatest player in history Lionel Messi was above the team. Messi also couldn’t lower his salary any further or play for free because La Liga rules prevent that form happening in order to avoid any financial fraud or wrongdoings.
“The salary can be lowered, but due to the financial control rules, each player has a margin for a reduction depending on different variables, such as age, experience and titles,” a league spokesman told ESPN. “So you can neither play for free, nor with a ‘lower’ wage than what should correspond to said player in a normal market. This is essentially to avoid fraud and ensure that the salary is paid via the correct tax routes and not with ‘intangible’ money.”
How Messi leaving FC Barcelona impacted the club
Given the number of years that he had spent with the club and the trophies he had won, it was obvious that Messi was not only the captain and face of the club but was also the leader and commander of the dressing room. Everyone felt his presence and aura and revered and respected him for the genius he was.
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Apparently, his departure was a huge blow for every teammate. “The first session without him was like a funeral. It was like the day after it was revealed Guardiola was not going to stay on as coach [in 2012]. There was silence, no joking around. People didn’t believe what was happening,” said a coaching source to ESPN.
Over several days and weeks, however, the atmosphere started to relax more and the tempo of the training sessions started varying. Their start to the league last season was horrendous and Barcelona were also relegated to the Europa League which led to manager Ronald Koeman being sacked and Messi’s former teammate Xavi being appointed as head coach.
Although results improved gradually towards the second half of the season, including the 4-0 win over eventual league and European champions Real Madrid, Barcelona still struggled and ended the season without silverware.
Since then, they raised over €700m by selling club assets which allowed them to sign and register the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen, Raphinha, and Franck Kessie this summer. However, Barcelona still miss Messi’s presence and his crucial match-winning abilities which is evident in the fact that in both the seasons without him, they have dropped down to the Europea League from the Champions League.
How long did Messi play for Barcelona?
Including the years that he spent in Barcelona’s youth academy La Masia, Lionel Messi played 21 years for the club.
Which club did Messi join after leaving Barcelona?
Lionel Messi signed with Paris Saint-Germain as a free agent after leaving Barcelona.
How many national trophies has Lionel Messi won?
Lionel Messi has now won two senior trophies with his national team Argentina – the FIFA World Cup and the Copa America. He has three titles if the 2008 Olympics gold medal is also counted.
What are Messi’s career statistics with Barcelona?
Messi has scored 672 goals in 778 appearances for Barcelona which are both all-time records for the club. He has also won a historic 35 trophies – the most for the club or anyone in Spain.