Barcelona’s announcement that Lionel Messi would leave the club appeared to bring a remarkable transfer saga to an end on Thursday.
Despite becoming a free agent at the end of last season, the Blaugrana great was expected to sign a new contract with the club, reportedly agreeing a 50 per cent reduction in wages.
However, due to “economic and structural obstacles” – namely LaLiga’s salary restrictions – Barca and Messi were unable to reach an agreement on a deal the club could afford.
These remarkable developments seemingly spell the end of a glittering Camp Nou career for Messi, who scored a staggering 672 goals for the Catalan giants in all competitions.
So, how did it all come to this? The timeline below shows it has been quite the soap opera.
January 13, 2020 – Despite the club being top of LaLiga, Barca confirm the dismissal of Ernesto Valverde four days on from a Supercopa de Espana defeat to Atletico Madrid. Quique Setien is appointed as head coach on a two-and-a-half-year contract, with a supposed return for Blaugrana legend Xavi failing to come to fruition.
February 3, 2020 – In an interview with Catalan publication Sport, sporting director Eric Abidal says the club had begun considering Valverde’s future after the 0-0 draw with Real Madrid on December 18. He adds that he and his colleagues identified “many players weren’t satisfied nor working hard and there was also an internal communication problem”.
February 4, 2020 – Messi hits back at Abidal, calling on him to name individuals rather than tar every player with the same brush. Writing on Instagram and highlighting a section of Abidal’s quotes, Messi says: “I honestly don’t like to do these things, but I think everyone has to be responsible for their tasks and take care of their decisions. The players [are responsible for] what happens on the pitch and we are also the first to recognise when we are not playing well. Those responsible for the area of sports management must also assume their responsibilities and especially for the decisions they make. Finally, I think that when talking about players we should give names, because if not we are all getting dirtied and feeding things that are said but aren’t true.” Furthermore, ESPN report Messi has been playing through a thigh problem for a number of weeks after the club failed to sign attacking reinforcements and let Carles Perez and Abel Ruiz leave after Luis Suarez was ruled out for four months.
March 30, 2020 – Amid the coronavirus lockdown, Messi confirms the players agreed to a 70 per cent pay cut. However, he makes it clear he is unhappy about pressure put on them. He posts on Instagram: “Much has been written and said about the Barcelona team in regards to the salaries of the players during this state of emergency. We want to clarify that our will has always been to take a cut in the salary we receive, because we fully understand that this is an exceptional situation and we are always the first ones to help the club when asked. Therefore, it does not surprise us that from within the club there were those who tried to put us under pressure to do something we always knew we would do. The agreement has been delayed for a few days because we were looking for a formula to help the club and its workers during these difficult times.”
July 16, 2020 – Barca suffer a shock 2-1 home defeat against Osasuna, handing Madrid the league title. Messi makes his dissatisfaction known, saying that they must improve quickly or risk Champions League elimination in their last-16 second leg against Napoli. In a post-match interview, he tells Movistar: “People are losing patience after defeats to Roma and Liverpool in recent years. We need a break and forget about this if we want to fight for the Champions League. We need to change a lot, otherwise we will also lose against Napoli. I already said before that playing like this we won’t be able to fight for the Champions League and you see, we could not even fight for the league. We need to be self-critical.”
Congratulations to Real Madrid on winning the 2019/20 La Liga title
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) July 16, 2020
August 14, 2020 – While they managed to get past Napoli despite an unconvincing performance, Barcelona are thrashed 8-2 by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final. It is their heaviest defeat in European competition and the most goals they have conceded in a single game since 1946.
August 17, 2020 – Setien is sacked by the club and presidential elections are brought forward to March as the club signals its intention to rebuild. It is reported that the majority of the first team are put for sale.
August 18, 2020 – Sporting director Abidal is relieved of his duties a day after informing Setien his time with the club was up.
August 19, 2020 – Barca icon Ronald Koeman is appointed head coach on a two-year contract. He said of Messi upon being presented to the media: “He is a Barcelona player. He has another year [on his contract]. I don’t know if I have to convince him to stay.”
August 22, 2020 – Tensions increase as Argentine publication Clarin claims Messi is furious that details of a meeting with Koeman were leaked to the media. RAC1 had reported Messi told the new coach he is ‘more outside the club than inside’ and he had little faith in president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Koeman is alleged to have said to Messi: “The privileges in this squad are over, you had to do everything for the team. I’m going to be inflexible; you must only be thinking about the team.”
— Luis Suarez (@LuisSuarez9) August 25, 2020
August 24, 2020 – Messi’s close friend Suarez is one of four players – the others being Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Samuel Umtiti – supposedly told by Koeman they have no future at the club. Suarez, Vidal and Rakitic all subsequently depart.
August 25, 2020 – Messi informs Barca he intends to leave the club, using a clause in his contract to exit on a free transfer, via burofax. Manchester City promptly emerge as favourites for his signature.
August 30, 2020 – LaLiga claims the €700million release clause in Messi’s Barca contract remains valid and must be paid for his deal to be terminated unilaterally. On the same day, Messi fails to report for pre-season coronavirus testing.
September 4, 2020 – Messi confirms he will stay at Barcelona for the final year of his contract in an emotional interview, in which it is all too apparent his preference would have been to leave.
October 27, 2020 – Pressure on the board persists with the clock ticking on that deal. Even with presidential elections on the horizon, in which he would not be able to stand for a third term, Bartomeu faces a vote of no confidence and instead announces his resignation, along with the entire Barcelona board. The outgoing president claims the club have begun proceedings to join a European Super League.
December 22, 2020 – Joan Laporta, previously president between 2003 and 2010, emerges as the leading candidate for the March elections and declares confidence he will convince Messi to stay. “If I win the elections, I want to make a very competitive proposal and I know he will listen to me. I want him to stay,” he tells RAC1. “I have an advantage over others, he knows I’ve always fulfilled what I said. We have a good relationship, we appreciate each other and we respect each other.”
February 1, 2021 – With his successor still to be elected, Bartomeu is forced to deny leaking details of Messi’s contract. Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports the deal Messi signed in 2017 could earn him in excess of €555m. It was also revealed Barca’s debts had risen above €1.1billion, with the COVID-19 pandemic having a huge impact.
March 7, 2021 – After Messi and his team-mates vote in the elections, Laporta is confirmed as Barca’s new president. He wins 54.28 per cent of the vote and continues to speak of confidence Messi will commit to his only senior club. “Seeing the best player in the world come out to vote today is a clear sign of what we keep saying,” he says. “Leo loves Barca.”
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) March 17, 2021
April 18, 2021 – Barca, led by Laporta, are one of 12 elite clubs to announce their involvement in a breakaway European Super League.
April 22, 2021 – The unpopular Super League plans quickly collapse, but Barca, Real Madrid and Juventus remain committed to the project. Given the Blaugrana’s dire financial situation, Laporta claims the lucrative proposed competition is “absolutely necessary”.
May 28, 2021 – The season ends with no new Messi deal in place, although Laporta insists negotiations are “progressing well”. However, he also promises new signings, which do not tally with the club’s financial difficulties. Sure enough, Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia, Emerson Royal and Memphis Depay are all soon signed, but there is little by way of outgoing movement.
June 30, 2021 – Messi’s contract officially expires, making him a free agent. While LaLiga president Javier Tebas refuses to ease the competition’s salary restrictions, Laporta says: “We are doing well but you have to fit a deal into the financial fair play.”
August 4, 2021 – LaLiga confirms a €2.7billion deal with CVC Capital Partners, with 90 per cent of the injection earmarked for clubs. Only €42m of this is set to be available for Barca to spend on transfers and wages, but it is hoped this investment will help the Blaugrana do the deal as Messi’s father Jorge prepares to fly in for talks.
August 5, 2021 – After widespread reports in Spain tell of a hitch in the deal, Barca sensationally announce Messi will leave the club. “Despite having reached an agreement between FC Barcelona and Leo Messi and with the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, it will not be possible to formalise it due to economic and structural obstacles (Spanish LaLiga regulations),” a statement read. “Given this situation, Lionel Messi will not continue to be linked to FC Barcelona. Both sides deeply regret that the wishes of both the player and the club cannot ultimately be fulfilled. Barca would like to thank the player most sincerely for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the institution and wishes him the best in his personal and professional life.”
August 6, 2021 – In a long and in-depth press conference, Laporta made it clear there was simply no margin in Barca’s salary situation to retain Messi, despite the player wanting to stay. He reveals a five-year agreement paying him two years of salary had been agreed, but was not cleared by LaLiga amid financial fair play rules. “In LaLiga, we have to abide by the rules, we feel they could be more flexible but that’s not an excuse. We knew we couldn’t abide by it due to the situation,” he said, admitting a decision had been taken amid opposing the competition’s deal with CVC Capital Partners that would “affect the club for the next 50 years.” If the statement had not made it clear enough, Laporta admitted Messi’s time with the club is over.