MADRID (AP) – The money came between Barcelona and Lionel Messi.
Barcelona have said the player wants to stay. The club wanted the same.
They even shook hands on a deal.
But ultimately, the club’s dire financial situation made it impossible.
Letting Messi go was the only way to save the club, and just like that, Messi’s era at Barcelona came to an end.
President Joan Laporta said on Friday that keeping the Argentina star would be risky and even the world’s greatest player was not worth jeopardizing the club’s future.
“We think Barcelona are above all else,” said Laporta. “The club is over 100 years old and is above everyone, even above the best player in the world. The club reviews the players, coaches, presidents.
Laporta spoke a day after the club announced the end of negotiations with Messi.
Laporta blamed Barcelona’s previous administration for the club’s dire financial situation, which prevented him from integrating Messi’s new contract into the Spanish league’s fair play rules.
He said he hoped the league would have been more flexible with their rules, but understood they couldn’t make an exception even if it meant losing Messi.
“There are objective reasons regarding the club’s economic situation and an investment of this volume with Messi’s contract was risky,” Laporta said. “We wanted to assume these risks, but when we realized the real situation of the club after the audit, it meant that we would have put the club at great risk.”
He said Messi and the club had done everything to make the contract work, but that this was not possible without hurting Barcelona’s finances.
“There comes a time when you have to say ‘enough’. You have to analyze rigorously with a cool head and look at the numbers, ”Laporta said. “And in the Spanish league, we have to follow the rules. We think they could be more flexible, but that’s no excuse, we knew the regulations. We couldn’t comply with it because of the inheritance we had.
Laporta said Barcelona’s losses have doubled from around € 200m ($ 235m) to € 400m ($ 475m). The club’s debt recently stood at over a billion euros ($ 1.2 billion), and it wasn’t just because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“There is no more room after a calamitous situation which was entirely attributable to the previous board of directors,” he said.
Former president Josep Bartomeu resigned last year with his board amid his fallout with Messi and the club’s financial woes.
The Spanish league pride themselves on having some of the strictest economic controls for clubs in Europe, preventing them from overspending and going into heavy debt. With these controls he was able to create a much more stable and stronger league over the past few years.
Barcelona’s salary cap, which is roughly proportional to 70% of a club’s income, is expected to be further reduced this season. Laporta said that for every 25 million the club spends on a player, it must add up to 100 million ceiling space, which “is not an easy process”. He said the club are already at their limit without the Messi contract.
Laporta said new funding recently secured by the league worth € 2.7 billion ($ 3.2 billion) would have helped, but the club were against the deal as it would have hurt revenue the team’s broadcast rights for the next 50 years.
“We are not going to increase our salary cap by selling our audiovisual rights for the next 50 years,” said Laporta. “This decision would have been risky.
League president Javier Tebas took issue with Laporta’s argument and hinted that the new funding, which also has opposition from Real Madrid and has yet to be approved by the majority of clubs, would be a solution to keeping Messi at club.
Messi leaves after leading Barcelona in his most glorious years. He has helped the club win 35 titles, including the Champions League four times, the Spanish league 10 times, the Copa del Rey seven times and the Spanish Super Cup eight times.
Messi, 34, had yet to make any public statements and there was no immediate news on his future. Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City were among the clubs able to sign him.
“Leo wanted to stay, so he’s not happy,” Laporta said. “We all wanted him to stay. But for him at the moment it is a situation in which he has to face reality. It is a reality that cannot be changed. I wish him the best wherever he goes.
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