A saga of greatness, loyalty, money, power and thriller
The story could be depicted with a mere tissue paper as that most mundane thing played a vital role both in the start and finish of the most romantic relationship of a great player and a super club in recent epoch.
Lionel Andres Messi, arguably the best player in the world has been the icon for Barcelona, where he joined at a tender age as an academic trainee by signing on a tissue paper, but he will not be part of the Catalan club anymore.
During a most emotional farewell speech, the Argentine on Sunday announced that the seemingly eternal relationship came to end amid tears drenching tissue papers on his hand and innumerable football fans around the world even who are not Barcelona supporters or Messi lovers.
However, the story is not all about a feeble boy coming to Spain, joining the club, served it as its most benevolent servant, earned the most profound and unprecedented love from fans, and saying adieu after a couple of decades amid the most emotional ambience.
Rather, the romantic story, like the modern football, has many unromantic angles and elements like money, power, politics and even pandemic.
The statements of the club and the superhero:
"Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of Spanish LaLiga regulations on player registration," Barcelona's statement a couple of days back read.
"As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona. Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled."
And on Sunday Messi, who became a free agent earlier this year, made sure no contract is going to be signed despite his desire to stay in the club even by reducing his salary to half.
“"I did everything I could to stay and it wasn't possible. I offered to reduce my salary by 50% and Barca didn't ask for anything else. They didn't ask for another 30%. That's a lie,” said Messi on Sunday during the emotional speech.
"I didn't want to leave, but I have to. And I want to keep winning. That's my mentality. I want to win." he added.
Revenue loss, spendthrift and the crisis:
La Liga on 2013 introduced a rule to limit expenditure of a club in form of players’ wage and acquisition costs to 70% of club revenues.
Barcelona however, did not stop being spendthrift as they spent € 960millon in last three years to push the transfer debt to € 323million and total debt to a whopping €1.3 billion. These scary numbers did not really frighten the club as it was still the top earning club by adding revenue of €715million in 2019-20 and was always depending on short and long-term loans.
But, nobody anticipated a pandemic.
The Covid-19 cost them at least €203 million and counting with no match day revenue or stadium tours and surely it will increase with the possibility of another season without fans in the stadium. Another small thing to note, due to their inability to win any Champions League in last six years, their key partnership with Rakuten has fallen from €55 million to €30 million.
To make things worse the Catalan club found that the short-term debt, which must be paid back in 12 months, rose to €713 million and even their last month’s approved credit of €525 million from Goldman Sachs with 3% interest rate and to be repaid in 15 years, is not sufficient.
As a result Barcelona’s salary cap limit, which was €671 million for the 2019-20, had to be reduced to a mere €160million in forthcoming year and some other issues made it even more complicated.
The club purchased players like Antonio Griezmann, Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele with inflated price and now it is almost impossible to sell off the latter two who enjoy high-level payroll and have been suffering from long-term injury.
The escape route and the future of club:
To mitigate the crisis stirred by pandemic, La Liga announced a deal to sell 10 per cent of its commercial operations to an American private equity firm CVC in a 50-year deal for €2.7 billion. However, two big giants Barcelona and Real Madrid denied selling their right for the next half a century.
The current regime of Barcelona feels that sort of deal would be fatal blow for such a big entity as that will incur a huge potential loss and they are even ready to sacrifice their most prized asset to evade that.
Many hoped the threat of getting rid of Messi from La Liga would force the authority bend their rules in favour of Barcelona but that was evaporated with the speech of Messi, who is presumably going to French outlet Paris Saint Germaine now.
To be continued…?
The story may not be finished just yet. The tussle of La Liga and Barcelona along its great rival Real Madrid may invigorate the now latent European Super League. Well, like an exciting TV series, the spectators have to wait during the next months to see many more drama unfolding.