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Could Lionel Messi really leave Barcelona?

The short answer is that it’s extremely unlikely and here’s why.

Firstly, it’s correct that Messi has a termination clause in his contract, allowing him to leave the Club on a free transfer. However, it is said that in order to activate this clause, he must inform Barcelona before the end of May. Whilst there is a possibility of a legal challenge on this date, it seems unlikely that any dispute would be resolved before the close of the transfer window on October 5th. Therefore, he is unable to leave Catalonia on a free transfer.

Secondly, we must consider the current context of the presidential battle in Barcelona. Josep Maria Bartomeu has been the president of FC Barcelona since 2014 but his relationship with the club and its fans has soured in recent years. Despite Barcelona’s domestic successes, the Club’s ultimate aim is to win a fifth Champions League and become a dominant force in European football once again. After PSG shocked world football by activating Neymar’s €222m release clause, many fans saw this as a signal of these hopes slipping away. Since then, Philippe Coutinho, Ousmane Dembele and Antonine Griezmann have all arrived for fees upwards of €100m but have failed to drive the Club to European success. This has all been encapsulated by blowing three goal leads against Roma in the Champions League quarter-final in 2018 and against Liverpool in the 2019 semi-final before being humiliated in Lisbon with an 8-2 defeat against Bayern Munich. This was the final straw for fans and players alike, with Gerard Pique stating after the game that “the club needs changes and I am not talking about the coach or the players”.

The players’ anger with Bartomeu’s leadership began in 2014 (pushed to 2015), when the Club was handed a transfer ban preventing the Club from signing new players for the next two transfer windows due to signing under-age international players. This ban was unprecedented at the time. However, things reached a boiling point when it was found that FC Barcelona had employed a social media monitoring company that had allegedly been behind the creation of fake social media accounts that attacked many of Bartomeu’s critics including Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and his presidential opponent Victor Font.

To conclude, its hard to imagine that Bartomeu’s reputation with the fans and players could be much lower. However, allowing the greatest player of all time to leave the Club and potentially on a free transfer, would surely make him one of the worst presidents that Barcelona have had. At this point, Bartomeu is likely to be attempting to limit the damage to his reputation before departing after the 2021 elections. One major way of doing this is ensuring Lionel Messi stays at the Club just one more year.

Thirdly, the options for Messi to move to are extremely limited. Football Leaks indicate that Messi’s wage is currently just shy of £1m a week. Immediately, this rules out all but the very richest clubs in world with only those bankrolled by nation states, Manchester City and PSG, able to potentially afford this. Considering that it appears Messi will be unable to leave Barcelona for free, then City or PSG would have to pay his release clause which is €700m, nearly €500m more than Neymar’s record-breaking move to PSG. To put this into perspective, Manchester City’s most recent accounts reveal that for the 2018/19 season, the Club’s total revenue was just over £535m (€600m). Messi’s wages alone equal close to 10% of Manchester City’s revenue whilst his release clause exceeds annual revenue by €100m. Purchasing Messi is surely financially impossible for any Club.

In our opinion, Messi will remain at Barcelona for this season. If he is to leave, this will be at the end of the 2020/21 season. With Victor Font the only current candidate for presidency, he may still be able to convince Messi that sufficient changes will be made within the Club to keep the Argentine satisfied in Barcelona.

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