PETE JENSON on how the Lionel Messi saga is ripping Barcelona apart

Sports


It is the most extraordinary transfer saga in recent history but with Lionel Messi on strike and Barcelona insisting only €700million (£630m) will free him, the outcome hangs in the balance. 

The board say he refused to give notice of his departure in time and so the window of opportunity has passed. Messi’s camp are convinced due to the season being pushed back into the summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, the initial June deadline to inform the board was, much like the season, extended. 

With both sides failing to agree on a single thing and La Liga getting involved in the bitter, public row, Sportsmail unpicks the tangle of claims, counter-claims, contracts and clauses.

The saga surrounding Lionel Messi’s future at Barcelona is tearing the club apart this summer 

Fans have gathered to protest outside the stadium against the board as Messi and the club remain at war over the validity of the €700million (£630m) release clause in his contract

Fans have gathered to protest outside the stadium against the board as Messi and the club remain at war over the validity of the €700million (£630m) release clause in his contract

President Josep Bartomeu is under pressure to resign in a bid for Barcelona to keep Messi

President Josep Bartomeu is under pressure to resign in a bid for Barcelona to keep Messi

What do we know for sure?

Messi wants to leave Barcelona and join Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. And City are committed to trying to sign him.

Right that was easy. Now everything else we are not sure of, starting with the contract. What do Barcelona say about the contract?

Well, there are two key questions that need answering. Is he a free agent? Does he have a buy-out clause?

Let’s start with whether or not he is a free agent. What do the Barcelona board say?

That Messi could have left for free this year but he had to inform the club before June 10. They say he is now back under contract until June 30, 2021, having failed to meet this deadline.

Messi's decision not to turn up for pre-season testing showed he is totally focused on leaving

 Messi’s decision not to turn up for pre-season testing showed he is totally focused on leaving

What does Messi’s camp say about that?

They say the June 10 date was merely giving notice 10 days after the end of the season. And that deadline changed after the pandemic put the end of the season back to August.

What do the sports lawyers say?

That if the June 10 date is written in the contract Messi doesn’t really have a case. He could argue that in the spirit of the agreement the deadline should have moved back because of the pandemic moving the season back, but it is unlikely that that would hold in court.

So he’s probably not a free agent?

Not if that date is in the contract. We haven’t seen the contract, of course.

So on to the release clause. What is the Messi camp saying?

Several reliable radio stations in Barcelona, informed by Messi’s camp, say they have seen the part of the contract where it says that the €700m release clause is NOT applicable in the final year of the contract. The implication being that the contract he signed in November 2017 was a 3+1 and he is now in the ‘+1’ year and there is no release clause.

Messi is the club's most marketable asset and they are adamant he cannot leave for nothing

 Messi is the club’s most marketable asset and they are adamant he cannot leave for nothing

A La Liga statement on Sunday saw them get involved as the struggle over Messi continues

A La Liga statement on Sunday saw them get involved as the struggle over Messi continues

And what do Barcelona say?

They say the release clause is applicable right up until the end of the contract – June 30 next year.

And La Liga are on the club’s side?

Yes. They say the clause stands. Although them siding with Barcelona’s interpretation is not surprising. The Spanish League does not want to lose Messi.

Is City’s dream of signing him dead if the clause is valid until June 30 next year?

Well obviously it would be better for City if there were no clause because Messi could unilaterally terminate his contract and a tribunal in Barcelona would decide the fee and it would be nowhere near the €700m (£630m) clause. But in a way the clause is a bit of a red herring anyway because even if the clause is valid Barcelona know no one is going to pay €700m (£630m) for Messi.

Bartomeu is yet to speak to Messi since the player sent a fax telling the club he wants to leave

Bartomeu is yet to speak to Messi since the player sent a fax telling the club he wants to leave

Pep Guardiola has typically played down a deal for Messi but now there looks to be a chance

But they could legally hold him, unless someone pays €700m?

Yes but it’s already embarrassing for the club that their greatest ever player is refusing to train. Are they really going to start fining him and force him to stay against his will? It would make more sense for them to just get the best deal possible. Also, if Messi goes to another league the transfer is not in La Liga’s jurisdiction anyway. FIFA would give the player a provisional international transfer certificate and he could register with City and then a court would rule on the legitimacy of the transfer at a later date.

But City want to avoid that?

Yes. They want him to sort things out with Barcelona. They want to know where they stand before signing him.

So is that going to happen any time soon?

El Mundo Deportivo, (probably fair to say the sports paper closest to the president) say Jorge Messi (the player’s father) will meet with Bartomeu later this week, possibly Wednesday.

Let’s round up by summarising the way forward here for each party involved. What do they want and what’s their plan for getting it?

Messi?

Not training is serious stuff. It hints at being willing to sit things out. To not do what he loves to do – play football. It’s the clearest possible sign that he is not going to change his mind. He wants to leave to join City. He needs the club to negotiate his departure – Barca get some money and he gets to move on.

Messi's decision not to show for pre-season testing showed he looks ready to sit out altogether

Messi’s decision not to show for pre-season testing showed he looks ready to sit out altogether

Barcelona board?

Messi staying but not playing is the worst possible outcome for them. If they could get something close to €100m (£89.5m) for him – be that including or excluding players – plus close to €100m off the crippling wage bill then they would be content. Long term it would be bad for the club because Messi is the greatest asset they have every time it sits down with a sponsor. But that’s not this board’s concern, they will be gone in March anyway. They want to leave with the books more or less balanced to avoid being liable for any losses. But, of course, if Messi does go, they need to ensure it, at least, appears they did everything they could to stop it.

Manchester City?

Watch and wait. Obviously the best scenario is Messi on a free but they know that’s almost impossible. What they end up paying has to be feasible in FFP terms. They have said players will not be involved but that’s a normal stance to open negotiations with. Further down the line if the difference between getting Messi and not getting Messi was including a first-team player then maybe it would be different. Eric Garcia already has one foot back at Barcelona so he could be part of the deal.

Sheikh Mansour is one of the few owners who could finance a deal, but City want assurances

 Sheikh Mansour is one of the few owners who could finance a deal, but City want assurances

The Barcelona fans?

Some have tried to get behind a vote of no-confidence against the president but there is probably not the time to mobilise enough people to get the 16,000 signatures and then a two-thirds majority in a referendum to force elections. And by the time those elections were organised the March election, currently in place, would already be upon them. Many have accepted that Messi will leave. Although with neither side speaking openly and briefing different interpretations of the same legal document (the contract) they are confused as to how exactly their greatest ever player will walk away after 20 years at the club.



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