Stunning news hit the sports world as FC Barcelona announced they can’t re-sign their superstar forward Lionel Messi. This shock announcement means that one of the greatest soccer players of all time will be available on a free transfer ahead of the 2021-22 season.
The 34-year-old will be a free agent for the first time in his illustrious career and will have his pick of any team in the world he wants to play for. That said, there are only two clubs that the GOAT is likely to consider to be his next team.
Barcelona lost $339.5 million in 2020 on top of its $1 billion debt
Barcelona is one of the biggest, most famous soccer clubs in the world, yet they are struggling financially in a big way. The team was already in massive debt, and the financial struggles caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have put the organization in an even worse place.
In early 2021, reports surfaced that the club, valued at over $4 billion, was more than $1 billion in debt. Additionally, the club projected pandemic-induced financial losses for 2020 in the neighborhood of $200 million.
With the ongoing financial troubles and the player and board unrest, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu resigned, and Joan Laporta replaced him. The transition came with a full financial audit which found the actual losses from 2020 would be more than double the initial projections at around $470 million, per the Daily Mail.
The club’s financial state means that although Messi and Barcelona initially agreed on a reported $420 million, four-year contract, the team couldn’t register the star until they significantly reduced their overall wage bill.
Barca couldn’t offload enough players to get their payroll down to an acceptable level for La Liga. So, this led to the club’s unexpected announcement.
The club announced Lionel Messi will not return for the 2021-22 season
Lionel Messi started his career as a child at Argentina’s Newell’s Old Boys club. At 13, he transferred to Barcelona’s famed La Masia youth academy. He quickly progressed through the club ranks. At 17, he became the youngest ever player to make their Barcelona debut, per El Pais.
Once he started with the senior side, Messi never looked back. In the next 16 seasons at Estadi del FC Barcelona (aka Camp Nou), the diminutive Argentine put together a resume that places him in the conversation with Pele, Maradona, and Cristiano Ronaldo as the Greatest of All-Time.
Messi has played in 778 professional games and recorded 672 goals and 305 assists. He’s won 10 La Liga championships, seven Copa del Rey trophies, and four Champions League titles. He has also taken home six Ballon d’Or trophies as the world’s best player. After all this, Barcelona had to let him go.
After seemingly closing the deal, the club abruptly announced on FCBarcelona.com that their long-time star would not be returning next season due to financial concerns:
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 Spanish LaLiga regulations on player registration.
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 statement on Lionel Messi
With that brief statement, Messi becomes a free agent and can sign with any team he likes.
What team is Messi going to?
The short answer to the question, “Where will Lionel Messi play next season?” is anywhere he wants. There is not a club in the world that wouldn’t take the international sensation. Even though this is the case, only two clubs make sense for Messi’s next move.
The owner of PSG, the biggest club in France, is Qatar Sports Investments. This organization is “thought to be owned by the [Qatari] finance ministry and the Qatar Olympic Committee,” according to Reuters, and has very deep pockets.
The team is also home to another one of the best players in the world and Messi’s former Barcelona teammate, Neymar. Messi also knows plenty of other players on the roster well. There are several of his countrymen, including Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi, and Leandro Paredes, as well as long-time La Liga rivals Sergio Ramos and Keylor Navas. In early August, Neymar posted a picture of Messi hanging out in France with several of these players on Instagram.
The other option is England’s Manchester City. The team plays in the toughest league in the world, the Premier League. The competition there is much better than in PSG’s Ligue 1. The City ownership group also has just as much cash on hand as PSG’s. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the team’s primary owner. He is the deputy prime minister of the UAE and a billionaire member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.
The City players are not as familiar to Messi as the ones on PSG. However, City’s manager is an old friend. Pep Guardiola, widely considered the best manager in the world, coached Messi in Barcelona from 2008 to 2012. Together, they won La Liga three times, the Copa del Ray two times, and two UEFA Champions Leagues. Guardiola often gets credited for helping Messi become the great player he is today.
Whether Messi decides to join the All-Star team in Paris or return to his mentor in Manchester, his next move will change the landscape of the football world for the next few years.
All stats courtesy of Transfermrkt