Lionel Messi: Guillem Balague on why Barcelona ‘may not win the war’
So now we know. Lionel Messi is to at least for one more season.
In the short term, it is a victory for the club and its directors in a much-publicised stand-off between them and the Argentine genius.
But while Barcelona have won this battle there is no guarantee they will end up winning the war – or even that this victory doesn’t turn out to be a pyrrhic one.
So why has Messi decided to stay?
Ultimately, Messi is staying because he feels he has no option and that he has been deceived by the club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who he says always assured him if he still felt unhappy with the way things were at the end of the season he could leave the club as the contract suggested.
Messi may well be staying, but this is a man who wants to leave. The spirit of his contract said he could decide what he wanted to do at the end of the season. The letter of the contract said he had to inform the club by 10 June.
On 10 June, coronavirus meant the last phase of the season had not even begun. Barcelona were, at the time, two points clear at the top of the league with 11 games to play and still very much in the Champions League, with the second leg of the last 16 to be played. Hardly the time to hand in your notice.
At the time, Messi was comforted by verbal assurances he had received from the president that at the end of the season he could decide whether he wanted to stay or go.
In a nutshell, Messi thought he had a verbal agreement, but Bartomeu saw his chance and was not about to be remembered as the president who let Messi leave.
In the broadcast on Friday, Messi has been unequivocal about it. The reason – well, the main one – he is staying for another season is that he has been told the only way he can leave is by paying the 700m euro buyout clause the club claim is still in his contract. Or go to court. And he was not going to court with the club he loves.
That is something that is not going to happen.
Messi’s legal team have been keen to point out to their client that they believe he had more than a fair chance of winning the argument in a court of law, that – as his father and agent Jorge Messi said in a letter to La Liga – the contract says there is no 700m euro buyout clause applicable from the end of last season.
But Messi was never going to go down the legal road against the club that had given him everything and to whom he has given everything. He made it quite clear in his interview that it never crossed his mind to take Barcelona to court.
So how did we get here?
For a long time, Messi had become increasingly disillusioned with what he perceived as a lack of a project at the Nou Camp, as he himself suggests in the interview.
At the age of 33 he felt in his heart this was a club going backwards. Weaknesses were being masked, mostly by him, sticking plasters placed on gaping wounds.
Messi is, always has been and always will be a winner. He has never done losing very well. He also knows he is now in the twilight of what has been a stellar career and wants to finish it as he always lived it – as a winner.
It had become blindingly obvious to him that this wasn’t going to happen if he stayed on at Barcelona, as much as he wanted to finish his career with them.
He had lost patience with those taking decisions at the club, mostly Bartomeu, and with that also lost the passion he needs to be the best he can be.
Above all, Messi was not enjoying himself and made no secret of the fact to the club’s hierarchy. Don’t worry, he was told, if you feel like that at the end of the season then you can go.
When it became clear the club were not listening to his protestations he finally decided after the exit from the Champions League to officially announce by burofax that he was leaving the club, and that as far as he was concerned his contract allowed him to leave on a free transfer.
Suggestions handing in his notice by recorded delivery were disrespectful were way off the mark. The burofax was sent to make official what he wanted to do because the president was not taking what he said seriously.
All year he had been telling the president that he wanted to go, as he has admitted in the interview. Had he not sent it, nothing would have happened and it would have looked like he was prepared to stay for another year.
So what happens now?
Having convinced his family to move (not without tears as they imagined a life away from what they love and in the place they will return if he ends up moving at some point), Messi will now stay. He has said his attitude will not change and even though he has tried to leave he will still give his best.
What he will find is a club in transition, although with the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Ansu Fati, Ousmane Dembele, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Frenkie de Jong and Miralem Pjanic in the squad this is still a very good side.
Maybe – just maybe – new manager Ronald Koeman can convince Messi he is at the right club, playing the right way, making the right advances and between them they can change things, move mountains, be successful, and then suddenly all the unhappiness he is feeling will disappear.
But I’m not sure we have heard the end of this saga yet.
Koeman and Barcelona are going to have to get used to working with a player who claims he has been deceived by the club president, a player who has made it abundantly clear he wants to leave, and a player who has openly stated he is unhappy.
Make no mistake, Barcelona are keeping a player at the club who doesn’t want to be there because of the way the club is run and because of who is running it.
Bartomeu, who would leave his post in March before elections, got his wish of not being the president that lost Messi, but was his agenda favoured ahead of the club’s?
The expected income this campaign would be reduced to perhaps 700m euro – a big deduction from the 1bn of last season – and one player will take more than 100m euros of that.
Messi himself said his departure would have been good for a club in need of fresh blood (and more sound finances). For him. For everyone.