Messi

OBINNA EZUGWU

Argentine football legend and Barcelona star, Lionel Messi will leave the Spanish club this year, in what will mark the end of an illustrious career at the club that has spanned over 18 years.

The six-time Ballon d’Or winner who has officially been a free agent since July 1, was unable to agree to a new deal at the club before his current contract expired June 30, and the La Liga club were unable to fulfil a new contract that had been agreed with the player due to “financial and structural obstacles.”

The 34-year-old had been expected to sign a new five-year contract with the Catalan club, which would have seen his salary reduced by 50 percent.

Messi has spent his entire career at Barcelona, coming through the club’s academy before going on to score 672 goals in 778 appearances after making his senior debut 18 years ago in 2003.

“Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations),” a club statement said in Tuesday.

“As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona. Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled.

“FC Barcelona wholeheartedly expresses its gratitude to the player for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the club and wishes him all the very best for the future in his personal and professional life.”

Barcelona have been struggling to reduce their wage bill in line with La Liga’s financial fair play rules for this coming season, and have been in talks with vice-captains Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Sergi Roberto about reducing their salaries by 40 per cent in return for contract extensions.

They have also been trying to sell several high earners including Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho, Samuel Umtiti and Martin Braithwaite but – again – have not yet found solutions for any of them.

Wage caps in La Liga are calculated prospectively based on a club’s financial health and they must adhere to their cap in order to avoid future financial penalties. The cost of the Covid-19 pandemic had severely reduced Barca’s budget for the 2021-22 campaign, Sky Sports reported.

It was thought a €2.7bn investment in La Liga from private equity firm CVC would help Barcelona overcome their difficulties, but the injection has not proven enough to enable the club to hold onto Messi.

Barca’s opening La Liga game against Real Sociedad is in 12 days’ time, with Ronald Koeman remaining in charge at the Nou Camp following a disappointing first campaign with the club.

Barcelona have been unable register Messi because his new contract would break the club’s proposed wage structure for the 2021/22 season – despite his 50 per cent wage cut.

Wage caps in La Liga are calculated prospectively based on a club’s financial health and they must adhere to the cap in order to avoid financial penalties.

The cost of the Covid-19 pandemic has severely reduced Barca’s budget for the new campaign and, after further talks with the league and Messi on Thursday, the numbers – simply – do not add up.

A new investment in La Liga from CVC Capital Partners was announced on Wednesday and brought hope of a £230m windfall that would help Messi’s new five-year deal be financially viable.