Leo Messi is still determined to leave FC Barcelona.
The divorce that seemed unthinkable is happening before our eyes, and Messi’s determination to leave the only club he’s ever played for has not abated with time to think about it. The greatest goalscorer in the club’s history shocked the world last week and every single journalist that has a connection to him or Barcelona suddenly began briefing that Messi’s intention was to leave the club now, not in a year when his contract does actually expire.
There has been much discussion about the deal, but where do we actually stand on the transfer? And what could happen next?
Why does Messi want to leave Barcelona?
Quite simply: Barcelona are a bit rubbish. The Blaugrana have been in decay since 2013 when Tito Vilanova was forced to retire because of illness. With him went the last remnants of Pep Guardiola’s sporting project, and then-President Sandro Rosell appointed an outsider (Tata Martino) to disrupt the planned coaching lineage and stop the project.
Rosell was ultimately deposed and jailed but Josep Bartomeu, his successor, used to be his vice president and was similarly uninterested in a sporting project, so he didn’t build one. For years, Barcelona subsisted on the genius of M-S-N, but since Neymar’s departure in 2017, it’s been absolute chaos at the Camp Nou.
Bartomeu and Co had no plan beyond individual genius, so when one left they desperately tried to find another. €100m+ was spent on Ousmane Dembélé, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann to little success. What glory Barcelona have had has come almost solely because Messi has been carrying the side to an unreasonable degree.
Of course, his one-man-band can’t work all the time and in the knockout stages of the Champions League it has come undone. For the last four years, Barcelona have suffered humiliating exits, first to Juventus, then Roma, then Liverpool and finally Bayern Munich. Throwing away a 3-0 lead two years in a row was bad enough but losing 8-2 to Bayern really was the baseball bat that broke the camel’s back.
All in all, it has proven too much for Messi. The Argentine desperately wants to win the Champions League again (he hasn’t since 2015) and clearly believes he cannot do so with a decrepit Barcelona side. And given he is 33, Messi also feels he cannot wait another season for the club’s 2021 presidential elections to potentially save the side. So he has decided to leave now.
What is Messi’s release clause?
Messi’s contracted release clause is €700m. It is a massive fee designed to repel the kind of predatory transfer moves that saw PSG snipe Neymar for a world record fee back in 2017. In theory, it should make Messi almost impossible to sign before his contract expires in the summer of 2021, as no side could afford to spend such a massive amount on one player even if he is the world’s finest.
Can Messi leave Barcelona for free?
Messi has a clause in his contract that allows him to unilaterally rescind the contract at the end of every summer. That clause expired on June 10, soon after the season was scheduled to officially end but due to Covid-19 delaying the end of the season by three months, Messi attempted to activate the clause before the end of August as he believes it was still valid at that point.
However, La Liga themselves have issued a statement where they clarified that they consider Messi’s contract still valid, and that if anyone wants to terminate said contract they have to pay the clause of €700m.
So no, Messi cannot leave Barcelona for free.
Who wants to sign Messi?
Manchester City and Manchester United have emerged as the primary candidates to sign Messi from Barcelona. With United offering a free-role at the heart of their side, as well as the chance to link with Paul Pogba both on the pitch and commercially. Messi is an Adidas athlete (like Pogba) and United is an Adidas club, so the commercial potential of this move is huge.
At City, the pull is obvious. Former Barcelona director Ferran Soriano is CEO, former Barcelona sporting director Txiki Begiristain is running the sporting project and the head coach is his former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola — the man under which Messi blossomed into the best player on the planet.
Moreover, on the field is one of Messi’s best friends, striker Sergio Aguero. It would be a comforting reunion while also allowing Messi to slot into a side loaded with world-class talent and, unlike Barcelona, one that has a coherent sporting project.
A move to Man City could also plot the roadmap for the rest of Messi’s career, with ESPN reporting that a clause could be inserted into his contract where he would move to MLS sister club New York City FC after three years.
What happens now?
Barcelona have stated that Messi will not be released for free, and La Liga have backed them up. So right now, they hold all the cards, even if Messi has not turned up for pre-season tests as the rest of the squad have. Messi believes he has activated the clause and is no longer a Barcelona player, but with his contract still valid, the only way for any club to sign him is either to pay the €700m (which would involve Messi depositing the money himself with the league to break the contract) or to figure out a transfer deal that would satisfy a Barcelona side looking to rebuild in the wake of several big departures, Messi included.