First shock, then disbelief, and, ultimately, sorrow.
These were the emotions among Barcelona supporters after the club announced Lionel Messi would not be signing a new contract. Perhaps even for Messi himself too, with the Argentine having agreed on a new, greatly reduced deal with the club, he was expecting to join his teammates in training this week ahead of the friendly against Juventus.
And yet, Barcelona put out a short, finger-pointing statement on Thursday night saying they wanted Messi to stay, he wanted to stay, but it was impossible because of La Liga’s financial constraints.
President Joan Laporta always appeared publicly confident that Messi would continue at Camp Nou and that they could find a way to register him. Despite Messi’s contract ending back in June and the fact he has been a free agent all summer, it seemed so many things had fallen into place.
The links to other clubs, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in particular, had faded. The city was chasing – and have signed – Jack Grealish for £100 million ($139m), while PSG reinforced with Sergio Ramos, Georginio Wijnaldum, Achraf Hakimi, and others.
The pair seemed to have given up hope; now, they are favorites to sign Messi.
The Argentine might realistically next appear at Camp Nou in a PSG shirt, denied the farewell at a packed stadium he deserved by Covid-19 and Barcelona’s withered bank accounts.
Messi, Barcelona’s captain since Xavi Hernandez left, had accepted a 50 percent pay cut and, according to reports in Spain, was even willing to go further after the club told his father and agent, Jorge, they could not register him for this season with La Liga.
Barcelona, for their part, did their best to try and build Messi a promising project for this season, including hiring his compatriot and close friend Sergio Aguero to join him in the attack.
But when logic and cold mathematics hit, Barcelona says there was no way around the league’s regulations.
La Liga president Javier Tebas was clear from the outset that statutes would not be bent. “We are not going to change any rule for Messi,” he said, noting that La Liga had not been financially damaged by global stars Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo departing in recent years. And, at 34, Messi’s time in the division was nearing its end in any case.
As much as common sense implied, there was no viable formula for Messi to stay and Barcelona to register new signings Memphis Depay, Aguero & Co, when it comes to the greatest player ever to play for the club, and arguably the game itself, there was willing blindness.
Barcelona’s legend, idol, six-time Ballon d’Or winner, all-time top goalscorer (672 goals), 10-time La Liga winner, four-time Champions League winner, and serial record-breaker has been at the club for 21 years. When it comes to that weight of history, logic didn’t stand a chance.
Messi tried to walk away last August, and it caused a rupture which was stitched up over the following months until he reached his best form in 2021. For Barcelona supporters, this is the shock of last summer but worse, deeper, because this time it’s real.
Is it Barcelona’s own fault for their terrible financial situation? Certainly, blame has been laid at the feet of ex-president Josep Maria Bartomeu.
Or is it La Liga’s fault for doing little to keep their most prestigious player?
These are debates that will rage in the days and weeks to come. So, too, will discussions over Messi’s future, with PSG poised to pounce for the forward.
Others insist this announcement is a play by Laporta, looking to force La Liga’s hand despite Tebas’s stubborn stance, believing the Spanish top-flight cannot stand to lose its best player.
There are even more conspiratorial viewpoints. “We demand to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” wrote an angered Lluis Mascaro in Sport.
“[Laporta] has to explain this very, very, very well. Some say that Barcelona never wanted to renew Messi’s deal and all the negotiations were a sad sham.”
With American private equity firm CVC having agreed on a deal with La Liga to inject €2.7 billion (£2.3bn/$3.2bn) into the league, reports in Spain had suggested the club would be able to register Messi with the new funds.
But Barcelona and rivals Real Madrid are against the deal and said as much in statements on Thursday night. Laporta will face questions about this on Friday morning.
For many Barcelona fans, the debates crackling on the radios, in print, online, or on social media are for now just noise, drowned out by their grief.