Although Messi’s 21-year relationship with Barcelona has dramatically ended, the charm of Paris awaits him this seasonNereece Brazier/@brazier.illustrates

Under the simmering Spanish sun and weeks of will-they, won’t-they, millions watched a relationship that everyone thought was their type on paper end in heartbreak. I’m not talking about the latest series of Love Island, but instead this summer’s split between arguably the greatest player of all time and the football club that made him. Barcelona’s shock statement released last Thursday (05/08) had all the cliché’s you’d expect from a breakup - ‘deep regret’ that it didn’t work out, ‘gratitude’ for time spent together, ‘wishing all the best’ for the future and, of course, the one we’ve all heard of before: ‘it’s not you it’s Spanish La Liga regulations on player registration’. The headline was simple: “Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona”.

The news came as a shock to football fans around the world. As recently as a month ago, it appeared that both club and player would get their wish, with Messi agreeing a new five-year deal in principle. The Argentine superstar had the intention of penning a new contract, only to then be told by club President Joan Laporta that this was impossible on the very same day of the announcement. Unlike last year when he had a row with then-president Josep Bartomeu over his future, Messi made it crystal clear that he wanted to stay, even willing to take a 50% wage cut in an effort to allow the Catalan club to register him within La Liga’s financial rules, but unfortunately this wasn’t enough. As with any breakup, it’s hard to point to just one reason or responsible party, but a good place to start might be the financial regulations that Laporta says are to blame.

“But like the parents in Romeo and Juliet, Tebas stood firm and, therefore, Messi had to go”

Herein lies a convenient villain: Javier Tebas. Spain’s La Liga President fulfilled the role of the Montague and Capulet-esque controlling parent, determined to keep the star-crossed lovers of Messi and Barcelona apart. In the name of Financial Fair Play (FFP), La Liga imposes a salary cap that totals 70% of a club’s revenue. With Barcelona’s revenue decreasing due to the pandemic and general financial mishandling, their salary allowance plummeted from €671m in the 2019-20 season down to €347m last year. Consequently, the club have been left spending 110% of their revenue on player wages, effectively operating at a loss and meaning that they don’t comply with FFP regulations. Many in the football world believed that Tebas might loosen his commitment to FFP in order to keep a player that was the main commercial draw for both Barcelona and La Liga. But like the parents in Romeo and Juliet, Tebas stood firm and, therefore, Messi had to go.

The logical next step would be to address why Barcelona’s finances are this colossally bad. Enter villain number two: Josep Bartomeu, the club’s President from 2014 to 2020, or otherwise known as the evil ex-partner, who is currently under investigation by Catalan police for misuse of funds and corruption. Much of the financial mismanagement that has left Barcelona with a debt estimated at €1,174m took place when Bartomeu was at the helm. Wasteful spending in the ongoing saga to replace Neymar, following his €222 million move to PSG in August 2017, is a perfect example of this. Bartomeu presided over the signings of Ousmane Dembele, Phillipe Coutinho, and Antoine Griezmann, which came to a sizable, combined bill of €427m.

“The era-defining relationship between Barcelona and Messi was what made many younger football fans fall in love with the sport”

Alongside extortionate levels of spending in the transfer market, Bartomeu’s handling of the club’s salary bill was equally disastrous - the very sticking point that has led to Messi’s departure. With bumper contracts of over €200,000 offered to players like fourth-choice defender Samuel Umtiti, it’s no surprise that Barcelona falls out of line with La Liga’s financial rules, notwithstanding redundant efforts to shift such costly contracts. But in all honesty, the club’s sinking finances and accumulating debt had been public knowledge long before Messi’s exit, with this outcome being the breaking point from Bartomeu’s loose purse strings.

Like with any relationship, once the tears dry, the expletives are exchanged, and the ice-cream tub is devoured in pyjamas on the sofa, both parties need to move on. Despite the devastation of leaving his boyhood club, Messi decided to couple up with the French beauty that is Paris Saint-Germain. Rather than hooking up with former fling Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, the Argentine will rejoin ex-teammate Neymar and form a new partnership with Kylian Mbappe, creating a front three that will leave football fans drooling and Ligue 1 defences terrified.

As for Barcelona, the European giants still look capable enough of challenging in La Liga with a crop of promising youngsters, notably the ‘heir to Iniesta’ in midfield-maestro Pedri. A thought must be spared for poor Sergio Aguero though, who was lured to the Catalan capital in the hope of playing alongside his close Argentine friend, yet hasn’t even shared a training session with him.


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But the people most worth feeling sorry for in this whole breakup are the Barcelona supporters. Not allowed in Camp Nou since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they will not get the chance to say a proper goodbye to the most successful player in their club’s history, a man who, at times almost single-handedly, led the Blaugrana to 35 trophies over his 21 years at the club by scoring a staggering 672 goals in 778 appearances.

For football fans, Messi’s teary press conference on Sunday morning (08/08) was one of those moments that you’ll always remember. The era-defining relationship between Barcelona and Messi was what made many younger football fans fall in love with the sport. Meanwhile, millions around the world would tune in to see what Leo would do next: a gravity-defying free kick or a skilful piece of dribbling that left defenders quaking in his wake? Either way, Messi has been there and done it all whilst wearing the red and blue of Barcelona.

When any relationship ends, it’s best to focus on the good times. Thankfully, for both Messi and Barcelona, they sure have a fair few good times to choose from.