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This is really happening, isn't it?
Days after Barcelona announced Lionel Messi would leave the only club he'd known for 21 years, Messi himself held a media conference at Barcelona's Nou Camp stadium Sunday to confirm his departure.
"I thought we would stay at home. We wanted to stay here and keep enjoying this life we have both personally and professionally, but today I have to say goodbye to all of this," Messi said Sunday, according to Spanish journalist Guillem Balagué, with his teammates in attendance. "All my life I have been here, arrived very young, after 21 years here, I have a wife, three kids who are Catalan/Argentinean. I will return here, as this is home and I promised my kids.
"I want to thank so many people, players, those that help us. I grew with he values of this club, humbleness, respect and I did that with everyone. I hope that is what they remember of me."
Why Lionel Messi really might leave Barcelona this time
Breaking down in tears on multiple occasions, Messi delivered the surest sign yet that he's really not coming back to Barcelona, which he joined as a 13-year-old in 2000.
The club itself blamed his impending exit on financial issues — namely La Liga refusing to finance the new contract both Messi and Barcelona agreed to earlier this summer — but there's been speculation it's a ploy to pressure the league into financing the contract as it tries to sell a large stake of commercial rights to a private equity firm in a $3.75 billion deal, as reported by Rob Harris of the Associated Press.
Additionally, Messi tried to leave Barcelona last summer in a fit of discontentment, only to return less than two weeks later. So there was a believe-it-when-we-see-it undercurrent among some media and fans.
With Messi officially out of a contract, and Barcelona seemingly unable to pay him, perhaps it's time to believe it.
"Last year I wanted to leave," Messi said Sunday. "This year I don't, and that's why I'm so sad."
Barcelona represents the unchecked capitalism hampering soccer
The story has captured the attention of the planet, even with the Olympics going on, and it would represent the most humiliating development yet in the years-long catastrophic mismanagement at Barcelona.
Messi has been the world's best player for well over a decade now, and the consensus belief he's the greatest player of all time has only grown in recent years. It's basically impossible to compensate him fairly for the amount of eyeballs he's attracted and revenue he's generated for Barcelona, but the club still had to try, and that meant making him unbelievably rich even by American sports standards.
The problem, such as it is? He needed a team to compete for trophies, which demanded even more exorbitant spending. By the middle of last decade, most of the once-in-a-century class of academy products Messi called teammates had either retired or lost a step, so the squad needed a reboot.
Former president Josep Bartomeu, elected in 2014 and forced to resign in disgrace last October after years of publicly feuding with Messi, saw little solution to roster construction other than throwing money at it like the bill would never come due.
Well, it has. The Athletic's Carl Anka reports that Barcelona's player salaries consume 95% of its revenue before Messi's numbers are figured in. And that revenue shrunk mightily during the pandemic; Sportico reports that the club's $815 million budget was slashed in half, and gameday box office as well as sponsorship deals also took major hits. Messi and other players took pay cuts to help support staff impacted by the pandemic, casting the board as greedy fools in the process.
What did Barcelona get for its greed? In grim fairness, the most successful period in club history. Messi won La Liga 10 times and the Champions League four. He's scored 672 goals in 778 appearances, both records, and won 34 trophies total, as well as six Ballons d'Or awards as world player of the year.
Ever since his last European title in 2015, however, Barcelona's expensive transfer business has been a giant letdown, and the back-to-back league titles in 2018 and 2019 are outsized products of Messi's still-absurd production rate.
With him now leaving, it could be awhile before Barcelona contends for a major trophy again as the club sorts out its finances.
What can Messi expect with PSG?
If Messi does in fact sign with PSG, he'll link back up with former Barcelona teammate Neymar and be managed by compatriot Mauricio Pochettino.
PSG finished second in Ligue 1 last season, the second time in the last five years they've failed to win it, but that's not really their aim here. Ever since Qatar Sports Investments bought the club a decade ago, the sole and stated goal has been to win the Champions League, and rake in the attendant cash from doing so.
The Parisian giants made the final for the first time in 2020, losing to Bayern Munich. By adding Messi as a crown jewel, they'd be firmly expected to get over the hump, especially after strengthening all over the defense this summer.
Therein lies another element of soccer's predilection toward berserk capitalism. Barcelona is hardly the only club suffering financially. In fact, the only ones who can absorb the skyrocketed wages to sign players like Messi are petrostate-backed clubs like PSG or Manchester City. Those are the two favorites to sign him, and it's no wonder they're the co-shortest odds to win the Champions League next season at +350 with BetMGM.
The Super League attempted to curtail unchecked spending through socialism and exclusionism. Fans hated it, and it was morally bankrupt. But in the basest sense, it figured to help save clubs from themselves, since whatever regulations are supposedly in place clearly aren't working.
None of that, of course, is Messi's fault. He's one of the biggest draws in the history of sports, and has given Barcelona more than it can ever repay.
Now it appears the club will no longer have the chance, at least in the near future.
Messi is gone, and what's left at Barcelona is a smoking crater of a warning for the rest of the sport.
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