When news began to filter in on Thursday that Lionel Messi‘s contract renewal talks had hit a stumbling block, the reality of Messi leaving Barcelona became reality as the superstar leaves on a free transfer.
However, an optimistic few believed that the Greatest of All Time would somehow still represent Barcelona in the 2021/22 season and beyond. The moment a teary-eyed Messi mounted the stage at the 1899 Auditorium in the Camp Nou to deliver a farewell address to his former teammates, the press and by extension, the fans, even the most optimistic of fans had no choice but to believe that their idol was truly gone. A combination of financial mismanagement by the Barcelona board and strict guidelines imposed by La Liga had ended Messi’s 21-year stay at the Nou Camp.
Lionel Messi Leaves Barcelona On a Free Transfer
Messi Leaves Barcelona to Call an End of an Era
In the days leading up to the announcement of Messi’s exit, Barcelona president Joan Laporta had assured Barcelona fans and stakeholders that everything would be alright, and Messi’s contract would be signed without a doubt in the coming days. The Argentine even returned to Catalunya from his holidays, agreeing to a 50% pay cut for a five-year contract. During the meeting with Messi and his representatives, the Barcelona board informed Messi that the club could not afford to offer him any contract as they had fallen so deep in debt that even if Messi played for free, their wages as a club would still be 25% more than the maximum allowed by La Liga. Laporta had hoped that La Liga president Javier Tebas would make an exception for Messi. Still, the La Liga board stood its ground and refused to allow exceptions to their wage cap rules. In a statement by Laporta, he said the club had to come first because no man is bigger than the club. In this case, there is good reason to doubt this statement.
Barcelona Financial Struggles Cause Downfall
Events of recent years, starting with the sale of Neymar, made Messi consider his future at a different club than Barcelona. In the summer of 2020, the Argentine went into a contract standoff with Barcelona after he sent a burofax to the club to inform them of his intention to leave. Then-president Josep Bartomeu did all he could to block a move for Messi, who decided not to pursue the case in court out of respect for the club. The club refused to negotiate a bid for Messi. The Argentine was forced to stay and scored 30 goals in 35 La Liga games as Barcelona ended the season with the Copa del Rey title. The club was not ready to lose the benefits the Messi brand brought to the table and opted to pay him for one more year rather than release him for a fee.
Since his debut in 2004, Lionel Messi has stacked up record after record at the Nou Camp, rendering himself virtually immortal at the club and raising himself to a god-like status to the Blaugrana faithful. Messi alone holds the club’s appearance, goals and assists records, along with several others. Messi had become Barcelona, and Barcelona had become Messi. Cristiano Ronaldo was the only La Liga player who came close to Messi in terms of the influence they wielded. Since Ronaldo’s transfer to Juventus, Messi became the biggest-selling brand and maybe even the only brand in La Liga. It became near-impossible for the league to lose him due to his market appeal, as explained by La Liga president Tebas in the summer of 2020.
The mismanagement of the Bartomeu-led board hit the club’s finances hard, with the club losing around €487 million in the 2020/21 season alone and being up to €1.6 billion in debt. The loss was partly due to the closure of stadiums due to COVID. In a bid to cushion the effects felt by the clubs, the La Liga board and the management of 12 clubs opted to sell 10% of the La Liga rights to European Investment Company CVC Capital Partners for €2.7 billion. The bulk of the money was supposed to go to the clubs, with Barcelona receiving up to €280 million over four years. Of this money, only €42 million was supposed to pay wages, with the rest used for infrastructure and to offset debts. Upon the announcement of Messi’s exit, news began to filter out that CVC was looking to pull out of the deal due to the league’s reduction in the commercial value. American broadcaster ESPN had just bought the rights of broadcasting the league for the 2021/22 season but were immediately reported to be looking for a way out of the deal. A comprehensive list of the potential fallout from Messi’s exit is shown below;
• €50 million collected from taxes.
• The disappearance of the best-selling shirt in the world.
• €950 million sponsorship contract from Nike.
• €111 million, profit from Messi’s photos.
• Barcelona’s profits and revenues as a city from tourism declined by more than a third.
• Barcelona’s market value decreased by €3.19 billion.
• Barcelona will lose €60 million from commercial advertising annually.
• Sponsors contracts at risk of disappearing, amounting to €74 million annually; €55 million from Rakuten and €19 million from Beko.
• Barcelona will lose about €175 million in ticket revenue, especially from the outside of Spain.
• The value of La Liga television broadcasts decreased by €1.7 billion.
• €3.4 billion for a period of 3 years, the value of the La Liga contract with the Spanish telecom company is threatened with cancellation.
While some of the figures may be overblown or exaggerated, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Messi’s exit from La Liga leaves the league without a bonafide superstar, and recovery from the fallout from a blow of this magnitude to the revenues of the league would surely take a while. If one man can have this effect on an entire league, it begs the question of whether the league or the man is bigger.
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