The expiration of Lionel Messi’s contract was such an event that Spanish TV show and viral drama merchants El Chiringuito counted down to the very moment the Argentine became a free agent at midnight on June 30. Then came the edit to Messi’s Wikipedia page which now states his time at Barcelona as 2004-2021.
All this was playful, mischievous fun, but the longer Messi remains a free agent, the more questions there are about the true nature of the situation. Doubt has deepened in light of further news on Barca’s financial condition, with the Camp Nou club seemingly still crippled by their own balance sheet.
According to widespread reports, Barcelona are currently restricted from registering any of their new signings (Sergio Aguero, Memphis Depay, Eric Garcia and Emerson Royal) after exceeding the salary limit enforced by La Liga. Despite having already sold Konra de la Fuente, Junior Firpo and Jean-Clair Todibo, a further €200,000-a-week has to be cut from the wage bill before the start of the season.
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Much has been made of Barcelona’s perilous state, but these numbers hit home the gravity of their situation. Barca will have to cut more than just fringe figures. Indeed, it seems at least one big name will have to be sold just to balance the books, and that’s before the financial strain of a Messi contract extension is factored into the equation.
Years of recklessness and complacency have sunk Barcelona so low that they now have an almost impossible decision to make on the future of their greatest ever player. To keep Messi, the highest paid player in the sport’s history, the Catalans will almost certainly have to make big sacrifices elsewhere. Would that be worth it?
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Barcelona find themselves at a critical juncture in their recent history. Ronald Koeman made some progress in transitioning the squad into a new generation last season with the likes of Pedri, Oscar Mingueza, Ilaix Moriba and Ronald Araujo making their first team breakthrough, but the club’s wage bill remains a cause for concern.
There are areas where Barcelona could make some cuts without inflicting too much damage. Sergi Roberto, for instance, earns an astonishing €190,000-a-week. Samuel Umtiti is on just as much while Miralem Pjanic, who has barely featured since joining from Juventus last season, reportedly receives €180,000-a-week. How, though, can Barca expect to find buyers for these players on such hefty contracts?
The biggest cuts could be made in the sale of Antoine Griezmann, who earns €880,000-a-week or Frenkie de Jong, who is signed to a long-term contract on €400,000-a-week. But these are two first team figures. Barcelona would be a poorer team for either of their departure, particularly de Jong who has flourished under Koeman.
Mouctar Diakhaby (Valencia) y Antoine Griezmann (Barcelona)
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It’s these sort of decisions that could present the only route to keeping Messi, whose last contract saw him paid a reported € 1,360,000-a-week, at the club. Barcelona might have no choice but to surround the Argentine with free transfers on knock-down wages and academy graduates until they are in a stronger financial position.
With Aguero and Depay already signed as free agents, this process may have already started. The addition of the former was quite clearly made to convince Messi to stay, such is the strength of his friendship with Aguero, but the 34-year-old also must decide whether it’s worth sticking around at a club that has no other way to keep him than slashing the rest of the squad.
Reports at the time of Joan Laporta’s re-election as Barcelona president claimed Messi wanted assurances from the new man in charge that the club could still attract top tier talent. Mino Raiola visited the Camp Nou to talk about the transfer of Erling Haaland, but it’s since become clear this was mere posturing. Barca might not even be able to keep the players they already have, particularly if Messi puts pen to paper.
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