Section: Sports

After tumultuous summer, Messi will remain at Barcelona

After a disappointing season for FC Barcelona and speculation that the star was on his way out, Lionel Messi, one of the greatest soccer players of all time, will continue to play for the club. Messi has never played professional soccer for another team; he first signed for Barcelona in 2005 at the age of 13. 


La Liga, the men’s top professional football division of the Spanish football league system, resumed play on June 11 after a four-month hiatus due to COVID-19. At the time of the restart, Barcelona sat in first place,  just two points ahead of Real Madrid C.F.. In the final 11 matches of the season, however, Barcelona struggled. At the culmination of the season, Messi’s squad saw their rival Real Madrid take home the trophy. Barcelona finished second, five points behind.


On Aug. 14, Barcelona lost 8-2 against FC Bayern Münich in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s top club competition. Days later, Barcelona fired their manager: “We have hit rock bottom,” said Barcelona defender Gerard Pique after the match. “We are not on the right path.” 


Realizing that his team was not headed in the right direction, Messi told Barcelona on Aug. 25 that he wanted to leave the club when his contract expired after the 2019-2020 season. However, his contract stated that he needed to declare before June 10 that he planned to depart. Normally, this deadline would be well after the conclusion of this season. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the season went deep into the summer. At the time, Messi argued that he didn’t want to declare his decision in the midst of a Champions League run, and that he should be allowed to leave. Barcelona viewed the situation differently. 


When a player is under contract in soccer, a new club has to pay a transfer fee in order to acquire the player’s contract, and thus the player. Barcelona President Joseph Maria Bartomeu continued to point to the June 10 deadline, stating that if Messi wanted to leave, he or his new club would have to pay the transfer fee.  In Messi’s case, the transfer fee was set for about $823 million. “Now I am going to continue in the club because the president told me that the only way to leave was to pay the [transfer fee], and that this is impossible.” Messi said in an interview with Goal on Sept. 4. 


It didn’t matter that Manchester City F.C., Manchester United F.C., Paris-Saint Germain F.C. and Inter Milan were interested in Messi — there was no chance that any of them could afford to pay the transfer fee. 


There is no transfer fee in any of the major American sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL and the NHL) making any comparisons to the European soccer leagues (Bundesliga, La Liga, Ligue 1, Premier League, Serie A) difficult. Instead of a transfer fee, in American sports, a trade would occur. However, the makeup of European soccer and American sports teams are built on similar principles. Players are constantly in negotiations about their contracts in order to maximize their earnings, while teams attempt to minimize their spending costs so that they can acquire more talent. This makes it very unlikely that a player will stay on one team for the duration of their career. 


There are clear examples of this in the NBA. Michael Jordan, widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time, played his first 12 seasons with the Chicago Bulls but joined the Washington Wizards for the final two years of his career. LeBron James also left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 in order to give himself a better chance at winning a title. LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland paid off, as he won two titles with the Miami Heat.


Messi wants to leave Barcelona because they have been unable to win the Champions League, the most important trophy in European football, since 2015. But will he leave the club he started with to go chase another trophy? It’s hard to say. Messi’s contract is up after this year. He could leave without any transfer fee next summer. For now, though, the legend has pledged he will remain in Barcelona’s red and blue for one more season.


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