Lionel Messi, Barcelona and contract saga: What next for the reluctant talisman?

Lionel Messi's love for Barcelona, and his adoring fans, means he is unlikely to go through the motions next season but new manager Ronald Koeman now has an unhappy player on his hands.

Ending a ten-days-long footballing drama that had the world at a standstill, Lionel Messi finally decided to stay at Barcelona on Friday. But because of the high-profile arm wrestle between the icon and the institution, neither camp has been able to claim victory.

When the 33-year-old forward revealed his truth in an interview with Goal that he would be staying for ten more months at the club, it was utter jubilation for all the Culés spread across the globe. But what about the man himself?

On the face of it, the six-time Ballon d’Or winner appears to have backed down in the raging contract row ignited last week when he stated that he wanted to leave for free. Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, backed by La Liga, insisted Messi’s contract, due to expire next summer, contained a €700m release clause.

In a statement on Friday, Messi said he was staying on reluctantly, rather than face a bitter court battle with “the club of his life” — the club which he joined exactly two decades ago as a diminutive teenager from Rosario, Argentina.

“I wanted to go and it was entirely my right, because the contract said that I could be released. I wanted to go because I thought about living my last years of football happily. Lately, I have not found happiness within the club,” Messi said.

EXPLAINED | The legal dilemma that kept Lionel Messi at Barcelona

Evidently enough, his initial decision of leaving the club wasn’t hinged on any monetary factor — it was clearly about his happiness. Now, even when he has decided to stay, he will have to make do with the “disastrous management” and “the lack of direction and competitiveness at the club”.

The Argentine has clearly become disenchanted with life at Barcelona. On the pitch, Barcelona’s 8-2 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League was a humiliation; off it, his relationship with Bartomeu has hit the rocks.

“The president always said that at the end of the season I could decide if I wanted to go or if I wanted to stay. In the end, he did not keep his word,” he said.

“I want to compete at the highest level, win titles, compete in the UEFA Champions League. You can win or lose in it, but you have to compete. The truth is that there is no project at this club. They just plug holes as and when things happen.”

Messi’s love for Barcelona, and his adoring fans, means he is unlikely to go through the motions next season but new manager Ronald Koeman now has an unhappy player on his hands as he tries to rebuild a squad that has gone stale.

Starting from taking his PCR test for coronavirus and then making his return to training, Messi has a hill to climb on. Can he instill confidence in his teammates as the captain who wanted to leave the club? Can he adjust to the new project without his former teammates, Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, and Arturo Vidal? Will his relationship with the management prove to be a hindrance again?

The questions are aplenty, and the answers aren’t going to be straightforward. But at the very least, the resolution of the transfer saga has arrived.


August 25— Messi hands in an official transfer request at Barcelona, stating his wish to leave the club for free owing to a clause in his contract

August 28 — Messi requests a personal meeting with the Barcelona hierarchy and his lawyers to discuss a solution to his transfer request.

August 30 — Messi does not turn up for Barcelona’s pre-season coronavirus testing. La Liga release a statement backing Barcelona’s stance on the dispute over his contract, stating he will only leave if his €700m release clause is paid in full.

EXPLAINED | What is the clause Lionel Messi triggered to leave Barcelona?

August 31 — Messi does not turn up for Barcelona’s first training session under new boss Ronald Koeman.

September 2 — Messi’s father and agent Jorge flies to Barcelona from Rosario for talks with Barcelona board.

September 4 — Jorge Messi releases a statement claiming Barcelona’s €700m release clause “is not applicable”. La Liga issues another statement refuting this.

September 4 — Messi issues a statement saying that he will stay at the club for the next ten months to avoid a legal dispute.

(with Reuters inputs)

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