Abuja – Lionel Messi will end his 20-year career with Barcelona after the Argentine superstar and the Spanish giants were unable to overcome “economic and structural obstacles” to a new deal.
The announcement on Thursday that a player widely regarded as one of the greatest of all time is on the market will spark a scramble for his signature, with wealthy Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City potentially in the frame.
Messi has played 788 games for the club — a Barcelona record — and won 35 trophies in a glittering career in Spain.
Barcelona had been expected to announce that the 34-year-old six-time Ballon d’Or winner would stay, but in a statement the club said negotiations had broken down.
Messi himself has yet to comment, possibly suggesting that there might be another twist in the saga.
Last month the Argentine forward finally landed a major international trophy with his country when they beat rivals Brazil to win the Copa America.
But there had been doubts over his future at Barcelona ever since he tried to leave last August as a free agent, citing a clause in his contract.
In a bitter standoff then between player and club, Messi bemoaned that Barca had had “no project or anything for a long time” but eventually agreed to line up for another year when the club threatened to take the issue to the courts.
In the 2020-2021 season, Messi showed little sign of his advancing age as he played 47 games in four different club competitions and scored 38 goals.
Despite his own performances, the season was a disappointment. Under new coach Ronald Koeman they could only land the Spanish Cup and exited in the last-16 of the Champions League, which they last won back in 2015.
There had been speculation that Messi would sign on for two years and then head over the Atlantic to Major League Soccer, although his former Barca teammate Neymar has said he would love to team up with him again at PSG.
– Huge debts –
In the background looms Barcelona’s debts of several hundred million euros, putting the club under pressure to reduce the wage bill.
They recently sold left-back Junior Firpo to Leeds United and US international Konrad de la Fuente to Marseille.
La Liga in 2013 introduced so-called financial “fair play” regulations setting a maximum amount of money each club can spend on its playing squad and coaching staff each season, conditioned by their income.
At the same time, Barcelona have recruited new players who were expected to please Messi including fellow Argentine forward Sergio Aguero, who joined the Catalan side from Manchester City as a free agent.
Spanish media reported this year that Barca paid Messi 555 million euros ($656 million) over four seasons from November 2017 to the end of last month.
Messi had been tight-lipped about his plans, saying in rare interviews simply that “nothing has been decided”.
Why Messi left in numbers
Sky Sports’ Lyall Thomas in his analysis said, “Barcelona have been unable to register Lionel Messi because his new contract would break the club’s proposed wage structure for the 2021/22 season – despite his 50 per cent wage cut.
“Wage caps in La Liga are calculated prospectively based on a club’s financial health and they must adhere to the cap in order to avoid financial penalties.
“The cost of the Covid-19 pandemic has severely reduced Barca’s budget for the new campaign and, after further talks with the league and Messi on Thursday, the numbers – simply – do not add up.
“Barcelona have so far been unable to reduce the wages of other high earners or sell players they no longer want, including the likes of Antoine Griezmann.
“A new investment in La Liga from CVC Capital Partners was announced on Wednesday and brought hope of a £230m windfall that would help Messi’s new five-year deal be financially viable.
“However, sources in Spain have told Sky Sports News that Barcelona are – at the moment – opposing the CVC investment because they do not want to give up future revenue to the company, along with Real Madrid.
“The deal was unanimously approved by La Liga’s executive board but the clubs are yet to vote on it and that is due to take place on August 12. However, clubs in La Liga and Segunda do not need their approval for the deal to be voted in.
“Barcelona have declined to comment further than their statement when contacted by Sky Sports News, and we are also attempting to contact La Liga for their comment.