It was a story wicked by the most intense of flames, driven by perhaps the most illustrious players of the century and arguably of all time — but after spilling his side of the story in an exclusive interview to Goal.com, it seems like Lionel Messi will not be plying his trade outside of the Camp Nou for the foreseeable future, if at all.
That future appears tethered with the Argentine shackled against his wishes to Barcelona FC until March 2021, over a suppressed release clause in his contract that should have been allowed leeway over technicalities.
Part of that release clause demanded an astronomical fee of about €700 million, something many clubs and their owners inextricably saw as a disastrously unworkable amount, especially with the pandemic’s effects to club football’s revenue. The other condition in the clause was where things got murky.
The 33 year-old believed, and rightly so, that leaving on a free transfer was his option, as stated in the clause, where he should have been allowed to exercise that right as long as he announced his departure before the La Liga 2019/2020 season drew curtains. Officially, that date was written in the contract as 10 June 2020.
But because of the coronavirus and the temporary hiatus of live sporting events, the Spanish league instead ended on 19 July 2020. The initial 10 June date was thus rendered moot, meaning that it was up to the club’s discretion to allow their long-time captain to gracefully head for the doors, of which many expected would not have been a salient issue.
A product of the dignified La Masia, Barcelona’s famed youth academy that has produced the one-club careers of Xavi, Carlos Puyol, and many legends cut from the same Catalonian cloth, it seemed like Messi would thread the one-club career many can only dream of achieving.
Since his tenure at age 14, he has plundered many titles for club and attained personal glories, including 10 league titles, 4 European titles, as well as a whopping 6 Ballons d’Or titles since.
His commitment to the club cannot be second-guessed, and many players, including rivals who have great respect for the Argentinian, have equally agreed that his future should be in his own hands by this juncture.
Former Barcelona coach Luis Enrique also weighed in on the situation amidst the saga.
“Leo has made Barça grow exponentially but I would have liked much more if a friendly agreement had been reached. Sooner or later Messi will stop playing at Barca.”
Instead, both Messi and Barcelona entered protracted legal tussles after he announced his intended departure. His official announcement came after Barcelona were hugely embarrassed out of the Champions League in a record breaking defeat to Bayern Munich, for all the wrong reasons.
After that defeat, the Argentinian did not show up for team meetings, training, and mandatory COVID-19 testing at Barca training facilities, before handing in a transfer request, tunneling the entire world’s attention on what was thought to be the transfer saga of a century.
In his revealing interview, Messi admitted that he had reiterated throughout the year his intention of leaving after the season was up, and that the harsh defeat was not the catalyst.
“I told the president and, the president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay, and in the end he did not keep his word,” the player looking visibly dejected.
After sending an unspoken message to the world with his absence of participation, the Argentinian’s lawyers meanwhile were already battling their way out of the expired clause for his departure.
Barcelona’s next power move, to involve La Liga’s governing body to enforce the disputed €700 million clause, disgruntled many around the world who were so closely scrutinising Barcelona and the club’s president, Josep Bartomeu’s actions for going back on his word.
Shortly afterwards, the player announced that he would be staying, but against his wishes, and the president got his way. Beyond taking his boyhood club to court, the player had no other option.
“I would never go to court against them, it is the club that I love, and I have made my life here. Barca gave me everything and I gave it everything. I know that it never crossed my mind to take Barca to court,” the 33 year-old confesses.
Bartomeu has come under fire on more than several occasions since leading the Catalan giants. Former winger Neymar Jr, who now plays for Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint Germain, has publicly condemned Bartomeu as a ‘joke’ on his personal social account.
In his interview, Messi speaks of the direction, or lack thereof, that exists within the club, and how seeking a move elsewhere was a long time coming for a club that seemingly had lost its way.
“The truth is that there has been no project or anything for a long time, they (Barcelona) juggle and cover holes as things go by.”
While the player looks to stay, it remains to be seen if Bartomeu himself will continue as president, with club elections taking place in coming weeks.