Messi hopes for amicable departure, but contract clause will be key in deal

Barça’s all-time top goalscorer could leave for free or come with a €700 million price tag, depending on legal interpretations

Lionel Messi holds his head in his hand during Barcelona's 2-8 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich (by Manu Fernandez/Pool via REUTERS)
Lionel Messi holds his head in his hand during Barcelona's 2-8 thrashing at the hands of Bayern Munich (by Manu Fernandez/Pool via REUTERS) / Cillian Shields

Cillian Shields | Barcelona

August 31, 2020 05:19 PM

Tensions are high at the Camp Nou. The most humiliating defeat in memory for FC Barcelona was followed up by a managerial change, some boardroom level departures, and a public declaration that many of the senior players are no longer wanted. Now, the unthinkable for Barcelona fans is happening in slow-motion in front of everyone’s eyes: Lionel Messi wants to leave the club

The new coach, Ronald Koeman, said he planned to build the new-look Barça team around the club’s greatest ever player, but Lionel Messi is acting as though he is already no longer a Barça player

Initially, rumours suggested that perhaps the Argentine announced his desire to leave the club as a way of forcing out the current president, and Bartomeu put the ball in Messi’s court when he announced that he would step aside if the Barça captain publicly requested it. 

Instead, Messi essentially ignored this call and, despite not having made any public statements, has let it be known through media leaks that he believes he is no longer a player of FC Barcelona after triggering a specific clause in his contract allowing him to leave. 

The lack of word from Messi himself has been a point of irritation for many Barça fans, who feel disrespected at their all-time greatest player's behaviour in trying to legally wrangle his way out of the club during one of the biggest crises of recent times for Barça. 

Key clause in Messi’s contract

Whether or not Messi is currently - on August 31, 2020 - a Barça player is not fully clear, and the reason for this is all down to the clause in his contract that Messi’s side says he is invoking. The exact details of the clause are known to few who have seen the contract and its wording, and it appears both sides have different interpretations. 

The complication arises from the season having been delayed due to Covid-19. By all accounts, Messi had a stipulation in his contract that said that he could unilaterally decide to leave FC Barcelona for free if he communicated his desire to do so before a certain cutoff point. Some media reports say that cutoff point was June 10, others say May 31, but regardless, the meaning was ‘by the end of the season’. Otherwise, in order to break the contract, a release clause of €700 million would have to be paid. 

The Argentine’s side now believes that due to the postponement of the end of the season, the clause would naturally be postponed too, while Bartomeu remains firm in his position that the date set in the contract is the only legally binding timeframe. 

Things were complicated further when Cadena Ser reported that the final year of Messi’s current contract - which he enters in the 2020/21 season - was optional and not automatically renewed. 

La Liga then weighed in on the situation by examining the details and publicly siding with the club, arguing that Messi is a Barcelona player, and to leave, the release clause of €700 million must be paid. La Liga would be one of the few parties privy to the exact details of the contract. 

The current situation

Must any club hoping to sign Lionel Messi have to pay €700 million? Is Messi a free agent right now? If Barça continue to insist on the release clause figure and Messi continues to insist on going for free, the two sides are headed for a tricky legal battle, likely with a judge deciding which side is correct. 

However, Messi’s father, Jorge Messi, who handles a lot of the player’s dealings off the pitch, is hoping for a more amicable departure from the club and wants to agree on a price for him. The club’s all-time highest goalscorer refused to show up for the PCR tests the club arranged before the return to training, showing his intention to leave the club is firm. 

If the club and Messi don’t come to an agreement, what happens next will be a legal Gordian knot, complicated further by the fact that the new season is beginning in a couple of weeks. 

Should Messi leave for another club without the details of the transfer being legally ironed out, it could come to pass that Messi is ordered to owe the club the €700 million release clause fee, meaning it could be a huge risk for the player to leave without finalizing everything. 

Barça’s 2020/21 season

With or without Messi, FC Barcelona will begin the new season in a couple of weeks’ time, meaning Ronald Koeman has the difficult task of building a new team surrounded by the uncertainty of not knowing whether or not he is building the team around the club captain. 

Style of play, formations, and tactics would vary wildly if Messi is on the pitch for Barça next season or not. 

If the club receives any amount of money for the sale of Messi, this could also have a huge impact on Koeman’s preparations for the season, if these funds are invested again in the playing squad. 

Before that, the board already have the huge task on their hands of getting rid of the senior players that have already been told they won’t have a part to play next season. Whether or not they will get the chance to make those transfers before the window closes remains to be seen, as the process of a vote of no confidence in Bartomeu is already underway.

The groups pushing for this move have already began the process and now have two weeks to collect the 16,520 signatures needed to force a referendum on the current presidency which would be voted on by Barcelona's members. If the no-confidence vote passes by two-thirds, Bartomeu and his board would be ousted from power.   

Huge question marks hang over the Camp Nou right now, with potentially a lot of turbulence ahead for a transitional 2020/21 season.