For the 17th straight year, Lionel Messi will be playing for F.C. Barcelona. But, the superstar’s relationship with the club that first signed him on a napkin when he was 11 years old has never been more strained.
Over the past two weeks, it seemed as though the six-time Ballon D’or winner was on his way out of Catalonia. After losing LaLiga to Real Madrid and subsequently being bounced by Bayern Munich from the Champions League 8-2, Messi revealed his intentions to leave the Club on a free transfer on Aug. 25. The world of soccer was sent into a frenzy. After getting over the initial shock of the announcement, soccer fans across the globe speculated as to where he might decide to write the next chapter of an illustrious career. Hundreds of Barcelona supporters gathered in disbelief outside the gates of the Camp Nou to beg their superstar to change his mind and stay.
However, Messi soon discovered that departing from the club he has spent his storied career playing for would not be easy. Unbeknownst to him, Messi’s current contract required a 700 million euro release clause to be paid by any club looking to sign him—a figure that would put the very few clubs that could pay in direct violation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations. Messi’s camp disputed this fact with Barcelona’s management until LaLiga stepped in and asserted that the release clause was valid.
Eventually, the Argentine forward had no choice but to stay for at least one more year. On Sept. 4, Messi announced his decision in an interview with Goal.com.
“I am going to stay at the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the 700 million euro clause, which is impossible, and that the alternative was going to court. I would never take Barca to court ever, because it is the club I love,” Messi said in the interview.
Furthermore, when asked about how the management of Barcelona treated him, Messi referred to president Josep Maria Bartomeu as a “disaster.”
Now, in addition to an awkward and damaged relationship with Barcelona, Messi faces one of the most unstable situations surrounding the team in years. Barcelona is entering this season with former player Ronald Koeman as the Club’s manager after firing Quique Setien upon losing in the Champions League. On the pitch, Messi will be without two of his most trusted sidekicks: Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez will be leaving on a transfer for Juventus, and Croatian midfielder Ivan Rakitic has left for Sevilla. Barcelona fans know that it will take a trophy-filled season for Messi to have second thoughts and stay more than one extra season. But for the first time in several years, there is not much excitement surrounding the squad’s prospects.
Messi, who many consider the greatest player in the history of the sport, has separated himself not only through his magical play but simultaneously through his unwavering loyalty to his club throughout his career. Past soccer legends have bounced around the world’s top clubs to enhance their legacies: Diego Maradona left Barcelona for Napoli in 1984, Cristiano Ronaldo took his talents from Manchester United to Real Madrid and now Juventus, and even Pelé came out of retirement in 1974 to play for the New York Cosmos. The more success Messi had at his childhood club, the more it seemed impossible that he would ever consider leaving.
Barcelona has one last desperate attempt to keep Messi for years to come. Whatever happens next year, it is certain that the entire Messi transfer saga has added yet another memorable episode to the legacy of one of the game’s all-time greats.