AWhen the members of FC Barcelona voted on a new president in March, Lionel Messi went to the polls personally. And when the expected election winner Joan Laporta was inducted into office, Messi was in the stands at the Camp Nou.
Nobody who has internally concluded with a club does that, and at the latest when the club announced the commitment of his Argentine friend Sergio Agüero, one could guess what, according to consistent media reports, there is now a preliminary agreement: The six-time world footballer will be 21 years old add a few more at Barça.
Up to five seasons according to the Catalan sports newspaper “L’Esportiu”, which published the possible details on Wednesday afternoon. Accordingly, the currently officially contractless Messi accepts a salary reduction to 20 million euros net for the coming season.
Miami always beckons
To compensate, there will be a signing fee and an improvement for the 2022/23 season if, according to the hopes of the club, which is in debt with over one billion euros, the number of spectators, tourist visits and thus income from the pre-pandemic period will be achieved again. If Messi continues to play after that, the salary will decrease again from the third year, according to this information; if he leaves the association, he receives a severance payment.
It is likely that the Argentine will gradually take it easy after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar – his last major career goal. Miami is always mentioned as a destination for early retirement, where Messi owns two luxury apartments, is on vacation again these days and the David Beckham club Inter Miami would offer a football address befitting his class.
“I’ve always wanted an experience in the US,” Messi said himself in December. Later he could return to his life association in whatever capacity, with which he should sign the ninth contract extension in 16 years as soon as possible. Normally things would be over now, sometime after Messi’s vacation ends, he would pull out the pen, plus photos and nice words: pure formality. But this time nothing is done. Or at least not the most important thing.
Drastic wage cut on Messi’s payslip
The crux, Laporta said himself these days, is the issue of financial fair play. Since he has not been with Barça since his old contract expired on June 30, Messi is considered a newcomer and has to be registered with the Spanish league LFP. However, this has been monitoring a strict system of upper salary limits for eight years. Each club is set a limit for spending on the squad based on its income and after deducting other costs. And Barça is torn after the mismanagement under Laporta’s predecessor Josep Maria Bartomeu and the slump in sales due to the pandemic.
In 2019/20, 636 million euros were invested in salaries and transfer write-offs. According to preliminary calculations, it was still 506 million in 2020/21. But the league only wants to allow 347 million for 2021/22.
Where Messi has so far earned 72.15 million euros gross base salary per year, the club would save quite a bit with his new salary. But that’s not enough. “You have to reduce costs by around 200 million euros,” insisted league boss Javier Tebas again on Wednesday. It is true that his organization can have no interest in losing its biggest draft horse. But there will be no Lex Messi either, Tebas has made this clear both at several meetings with the Barça managers and publicly: “I won’t turn a blind eye, that’s impossible,” said the relentlessly known functionary. It is about “the integrity of the league”.
Players should be given away if necessary
Laporta and the new sports director Mateu Alemany only have to relieve the payroll wherever possible. The most spectacular measure could affect the second best earner in the team, Antoine Griezmann. In the last few days rumors have been growing that the French world champion could return to his former club Atlético Madrid in exchange for midfielder Saúl Ñíguez. When Barça presented the campaign for their new second kit just this Thursday, it was not only missing Messi (for legal reasons), but also Griezmann. When the first shirt was presented last month, he had played a leading role.
Barça already saved last season with contract extensions from Marc-André ter Stegen, Gerard Piqué, Frenkie de Jong and Sergiño Dest, who forego part of their salary for a transitional period. Similar deals are now being sought with club veterans Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto. Other high earners like the currently injured Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembélé are only too happy to listen to offers, and two should definitely leave the club: defender Samuel Umtiti and midfielder Miralem Pjanic.
Pjanic is a striking example of how the club under Bartomeu calculated its accounts nicely. In order not to close the annual balance sheet with a loss, his colleague Arthur Melo was sold to Juventus Turin for 72 million euros in summer 2020 and Pjanic was acquired from Turin for 60 million euros. The transfer fees, which are utopian, especially in pandemic times, drove up revenues at both clubs. In turn, expenses are written off over years in the case of transfers and could thus be postponed to the future. Now Barça is sitting on 31-year-old Pjanic, who has to be amortized for three more years with 15 million euros per season.
In order to at least save his salary, Barça is even willing to give it away, the same applies to Umtiti. Only situations like last season at Luis Suárez should be avoided: the Uruguayan was even paid part of his salary while he shot his new club Atlético to the championship.
Coach Koeman is allowed to stay
Meanwhile, Suárez’s center-forward goals were sorely missed in Barcelona, and Agüero will shoot her in the future. Like him on a free transfer from Manchester City, Spain’s young international defender Eric García comes, also for free from Olympique Lyon, the Dutch attacker Memphis Depay and for nine million euros from Betis Sevilla the Brazilian right-back Emerson Royal. Everyone is ready to be satisfied with moderate salaries.
Junior Firpo (Leeds), Jean-Clair Todibo (Nice) and Carles Aleñá (Getafe) have already left the club for a total of 28.5 million euros for seven million acquired midfielder Matheus Fernandes, the most inexplicable of many strange transfers, given back to his Brazilian homeland.
If everything else works as it should, Barça could start the season with a competitive team. But coach Ronald Koeman is still not certain who he can work with. The Dutchman came to terms with these conditions last season and Laporta resisted his original reflex to replace him after a long wash. It would only have cost money again and would not have been particularly popular. Koeman may not be a new Pep Guardiola, but as the scorer of the winning goal for the club’s first Champions League title in 1992, he has authority, and he never complains and did more right than wrong last season. Last but not least, Messi appreciates him.
And that’s what it’s all about first and foremost. Laporta, president between 2003 and 2010, repeatedly pleaded during the election campaign that he could keep Messi, who was still willing to emigrate last summer, at the club because of his good personal relationship. Now he is about to keep his word. When the league plays along.