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Messi’s departure a sorry tale of recklessness that could see further headaches for Barça

Private equity deal could have helped legendary captain to stay but president Laporta remained loyal to Super League ambitions

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09 August 2021 02:49 PM

by

Cillian Shields | Barcelona

In a shockingly sudden manner for all involved, the unthinkable has become reality at FC Barcelona with Lionel Messi reduced to tears during his goodbye press conference on Sunday. 

Days earlier, the club officially announced that they would not be able to keep hold of its star player, captain, and historic icon, prompting the Argentine player to make contact with Paris Saint-Germain over a potential transfer to the French capital. 

The 34-year-old, affiliated with Barça for the last 21 years, told the gathered media and fans watching worldwide that he had done “everything possible” to stay at Barcelona, but in the end, he was as surprised as anybody to learn remaining in Catalonia would be impossible. 

The club’s statement firmly put the blame on “financial and structural obstacles,” and the player acknowledged that “everything was arranged with Laporta and the club, but it wasn't possible in the end” due to “things to do with La Liga.”

Clubs competing in Spain’s highest football division have caps on what total wage bill they can operate with, relative to the overall turnover of the club. With income drastically reduced due to the pandemic, Barcelona’s salary cap must come down this season. 

Private equity investment 

Just days before the bombshell of Messi’s departure was confirmed, it was announced that a deal was struck between La Liga and the private equity investment firm CVC that would have seen CVC own 10% of the league’s annual broadcasting rights for a period of up to 50 years, as reported by some media outlets. 

The agreement, which does not need a unanimous decision to be passed, would also see an immediate cash injection of €2.7 billion, split among the clubs. 

La Liga will allow a certain percentage of this money for wages and transfers this season, and the deal would have also counted as part of income for Barcelona, increasing their overall wage budget, and allowing them to continue pursuing possibilities of keeping Messi at the club. 

The deal would also have effectively closed the door to a potential future Super League, a dream football restructuring that Barça, Real Madrid, and Juventus still cling on to, despite all other teams involved publicly distancing themselves from the concept that was born and died in one dramatic week in April

So, faced with the option of backing the agreement and getting behind a deal that anchors FC Barcelona to Spain’s La Liga for the coming decades, or else rejecting it as well as the solutions to immediate problems it would provide, Laporta chose the Super League, meaning there would be virtually no way to keep Messi. 

Laporta said he didn’t want to “mortgage” the future of FC Barcelona in his press conference last Friday, without specifying the Super League, and said he believed that the deal was underpriced. 

CVC had also approached the German Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A about similar business arrangements, but both leagues shot down the approaches of the private investment firm. 

More problems are on the horizon 

Losing Messi may be just the first major headache for Barça this summer. Without his wages on the books, the club are still far above their salary cap, and are currently unable to register their new signings with La Liga for the coming season. 

Without other players taking a serious wage cut, or sales coming very soon, Sergio Agüero, Eric García, Memphis Depay, and Emerson Royal could be left in limbo, unable to play football, legally. 

Regardless of whether registration is made possible or not, Agüero has already been ruled out for ten weeks with injury the week the new campaign was set to begin. 

Laporta explained in his press conference last week that he inherited a club in a financial situation “much worse” than initially thought, with debts soaring to over a billion euros, and last year's losses alone amounting to €487 million. 

The scale of damage and recklessness of the previous regime, led by Josep Maria Bartomeu, is beginning to bite.

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  • Former Barcelona captain Leo Messi breaks down in tears during his goodbye press conference (image by Albert Gea/Reuters)

  • Former Barcelona captain Leo Messi breaks down in tears during his goodbye press conference (image by Albert Gea/Reuters)

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