Under normal circumstances, Lionel Messi would be returning to Barcelona training on Tuesday, together with Sergio Agüero and Emerson. He’s back in Catalonia, but he won’t be joining up with the squad until his new contract is signed and has been approved by LaLiga. To make that happen, Barça need to cut 200m euros off their wage bill, and are still nowhere near doing that. In recent years, their outgoings on salaries have rocketed. Not just because of Messi, but also because another six players – Gerard Piqué, Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, Ousmane Dembélé, Philippe Coutinho and Antoine Griezmann – are paid more than the highest earner at Real Madrid. Now, new director of football Mateu Alemany is working to trim Barça’s wage costs, by offloading players and putting off payments. An agreement is in place with Messi, but the club still need to make his new deal fit into their accounts.
Many LaLiga club presidents hoping for Messi stay
The other day, Getafe president Ángel Torres said Messi would be a major loss to LaLiga if he left. Spain has already endured the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, and a Messi exit on top of that would be like the league losing its third Michelin star. I understand other club chiefs feel the same way as Torres: they’re willing to accept Messi banging in the goals against them twice a year in exchange for the prestige he brings to the division. However, that’s not true of Real or Atlético Madrid, direct rivals to Barça who, unlike former Camp Nou president Josep Maria Bartomeu, have made an effort to keep their players’ insatiable wage demands in check. LaLiga president Javier Tebas also wants Messi to stay, but needs Barça to show him a vaguely realistic financial plan.
Alemany doesn’t have an easy task ahead of him. Memphis Depay, Emerson, Agüero and Eric García have all arrived this summer, and none of Dembélé, Griezmann and Coutinho have departed. Only fringe players – Matheus Fernandes, Francisco Trincão and Carles Aleñá – have been shipped out. Now he is pressing the club captains to agree to a 40% wage reduction. In the 1960s, three homegrown players, Salvador Sadurní, Joaquim Rifé and Josep Maria Fusté, offered to take pay cuts when the club was in trouble. What they earned paled in comparison to the amount these lads get today. Different times, of course. A delaying of payments may be the best Alemany can hope for. He’ll balance the books in the end, but I’m intrigued to find out how he’ll manage it.