After suffering an 8-2 shellacking in their UEFA Champions League quarterfinal match against Bayern Munich nearly a month ago, the writing was on the wall for Messi and FC Barcelona. Not only did that loss give Barcelona their first trophy-less season since 2007-08, it marked what many believed to be the end of an era for the “Blaugrana.”
Watching Messi walk off the pitch that day in Lisbon, there was no doubt in my mind we had witnessed his final match in a Barcelona jersey. It was beneficial for both parties to see the 33-year-old Argentinian star move on from the only club he has ever known. From Messi’s perspective, a change of scenery with a new team seems logical as he enters the twilight of his brilliant career. As for Barcelona, allowing their older core players to go elsewhere in favor of acquiring and developing younger talent into a future contender made sense for a club desperately needing to rebuild.
So, when sources confirmed on Aug. 25 that Messi officially informed Barcelona of his desire to leave them following this summer, the possibilities of where he might end up began to run rampant in my mind. Would we finally see Messi move to England and compete in the Premier League for Manchester City? What if Messi decided to join Neymar, his former teammate at Barca, and play in France for Paris Saint-Germain? Or, could there be a chance to see Messi take his talents over to Italy, join Juventus F.C. and create an ultimate alliance alongside his biggest rival in Cristiano Ronaldo?
Unfortunately, none of those options came to fruition. On Monday, Messi returned to resume training with Barcelona after announcing last week in an exclusive interview with Goal that he did not want to engage in a potentially ugly legal dispute against “the club of my life” for clarity on his contract situation.
So how exactly did we get here in the last two weeks? Well, it all starts with Messi’s contract that he signed back in 2017. His current contract included a stipulation that at the end of each season, he could opt out of the deal without Barcelona getting any financial compensation for his departure. However, in order to do so, Messi would need to inform the club of that decision before June 10 or else risk having to pay a whopping 700 million euro release clause payment should he wish to leave at any point after the deadline.
But amid the coronavirus pandemic, European club soccer leagues were shut down in March and no longer on schedule to be completed before the beginning of summer. La Liga would instead have to settle for finishing its season on July 19 as Champions League play did not end until late August.
Considering these extenuating circumstances, I assumed Messi would get the benefit of the doubt after his father and agent, Jorge Messi, sent a letter to La Liga President Javier Tebas. Even after explaining that the release clause payment was not applicable after the 2019-20 season, according to his son’s contract, Tebas and La Liga issued a statement siding firmly with Barcelona after analyzing the contract.
It does not come as a shock to me that the league would rule in favor of arguably its most popular club over one player, even a transcendent footballer like Messi who has generated millions of dollars in revenue for the Spanish league in his time with Barcelona. La Liga knows if they forced Barcelona to honor Messi’s release without receiving compensation, Messi would likely leave for a club elsewhere in Europe. The league lost Ronaldo to Italy two years ago and in losing Messi too, they would be devoid of the two superstars who elevated La Liga as arguably the best league in Europe since their respective arrivals.
Messi may have surmised this situation best in the interview with Goal, saying, “This world of soccer is very difficult and there are many fake people. This has helped me to recognize many fake people. It hurt me when my love for this club was questioned. No matter how much I go or stay, my love for Barca will never change.”
In hindsight, Messi could have easily taken Barcelona to court for their indiscretions towards his contract and put himself in position to win a potential legal dispute. But, that just isn’t his style. A gentleman on and off the field, Messi would rather spend the last year of his contract unhappy at Barcelona than to expose them to the world as a club who won’t allow the greatest player in their history to leave respectfully without inheriting a hefty payday.
Everything Messi did to help Barcelona win countless matches en route to filling up the club’s trophy case for nearly two decades, you would think he has given the club more than enough to merit leaving and finishing his career elsewhere. Sadly, even the most loyal star athletes do not receive the happy endings they so rightly deserve.