The effects are already being felt across the game, and Lionel Messi hasn’t even moved yet. “Virtually every top club” are figuring out what they can do to try and buy him. A shocked Barcelona are figuring out how they respond.
While Messi’s decision that he wants to leave Camp Nou is clear, what happens next is anything but. We may be likelier to see an ugly legal battle than what would surely represent the biggest transfer in the history of football.
That description may yet apply to the figure as much as the consequences.
Sharing the full story, not just the headlines
Barca are currently insistent that the clause Messi is trying to enact expired on 30 June, so they would demand a €700m buy-out if he does go through with this decision. The Argentine’s camp believe the extension of the season means that no longer applies, and it instead expires on 31 August. The most intense discussions are currently taking place – almost everywhere.
It should be recognised this is no mere power play. Sources in Spain and Argentina are insisting that Messi wants to go even if unpopular president Josep Bartomeu leaves. That fact alone should be cause for mass resignations. Barcelona have so disillusioned their greatest ever player that he has taken a decision that at one point seemed unimaginable. It is football negligence.
Messi right now sees no way that Barca are winning the Champions League any time soon, certainly not in the remaining years he has left. That is why, at 33, he finally wants out. That European Cup is what he wants above anything else. That fact will guide everything to come.
That’s why you can almost certainly forget a romantic outcome, like Newell’s Old Boys or Leeds United, or a depressing outcome like joining Xavi in Qatar. He has spoken to Inter Miami, but that is for when he feels his career in Europe is up.
It means there are only a certain number of clubs that can attract him, let alone afford him.
European agents who work with super-clubs have told The Independent that everyone will at least try and find the money. That means the current candidates are Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, Internazionale and… Real Madrid.
Narratively rich as that last option is, it is probably beyond Barca’s great rivals, and he doesn’t want to go to the Bernabeu. Messi may be enraged with the Camp Nou hierarchy, but he doesn’t want to betray the fans.
Liverpool and Juventus meanwhile may investigate if it’s possible but are likely to quickly find it’s not. So much for the idea of pairing Messi and Ronaldo for one schmaltzy last dance, and last act in the rivalry.
The Ronaldo case also offers a cautionary tale for Inter, given Messi’s age, and the size of any potential contract. They are interested, but he would cost at least £90m a year when taking everything in. City, PSG and Chelsea are by far best placed to afford it, but that doesn’t mean they’d do so comfortably. They’d just sense a chance worth seizing. United and Bayern may feel similar, but it would be out of sync with their usual prudence.
Roman Abramovich has long desired this signing. Pep Guardiola will publicly say he wants it, but sources close to the Catalan maintain he is conscious of winning the Champions League without Messi, and there are repeated murmurs their relationship isn’t all that great. Neymar meanwhile might prefer his great friend goes elsewhere.
The reality is that, wherever Messi goes, he will instantly transform them as a team. That’s how good he is. His transfer would transform European football, which is why it might be healthier for the sport if he went outside the wealthiest candidates, or dominant clubs.
His gravitational effect on the game would be as great as that he has on any pitch he sets foot on. That’s how huge this story is, certainly the biggest in sport beyond Covid-19.
You only have to look at the immediate effects on Barca. With Carlos Puyol publicly tweeting Messi his support, and the discarded Luis Suarez following, it really is open season. You couldn’t have a worse display from a dysfunctional club.
This is partly why Messi wants out, that it’s got this bad.
And yet, shocked as Barcelona are, there are some at the club who sense an opportunity of their own. Messi has a gravitational effect on any game, but he also has a gravitational effect on a club’s finances.
Really, Barca can’t properly rebuild with him on the books. Their finances are too constrained. This may solve that, while suddenly allowing Ronald Koeman huge money for a rebuild, and merely hastening a problem they eventually have to deal with anyway.
“They’re going to have to cope with life after Messi at some point,” one source who works with the club says. “All things pass. And the dangerous narrative from Barça fans is that the Barça DNA was being abused in recent years. Xavi and Iniesta retired. Neymar left. [Gerard] Pique gone past his best. Dani Alves left. On any level, nobody could cope with that.”
Messi feels he shouldn’t have to any longer. The rest of the game is now going to have to cope with the effects of that.
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