Sports The Messi headache: Barcelona set for another clear-out?


There’s one man in the world, whose job very few would want at this point in time – Barcelona president Joan Laporta. Months after being elected to replace Josep Maria Bartomeu, the man at the helm is still faced with mending a mountain of problems occasioned by his predecessor.

Just like it was at the start of last season, the name in the headlines is Lionel Messi, though for very different reasons this time. Last season, he had indicated he’d want to leave, but somehow Barcelona managed to hold on him for the final year on his contract.

It took some convincing to keep the Argentine star at the club. Now, a year older, Messi’s stock has risen tremendously after winning the Copa America, but it also happens that for the first time since he was 13 years old, he is a free agent. He has been for about four weeks and there’s still no way forward as talks admittedly continue in the background.

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Barcelona have just over a month to put their house in order and even after Messi is reported to have taken a 50% pay cut to stay at the club, the Catalans are still struggling to balance their books and need to move on a few players.

It was more of the same case last season, when key players including Luis Suarez and Arturo Vidal were released at throw away prices. Yet still, Barcelona still has players considered deadwood while all indication point to the main man, Messi being untouchable, lest the wrath of fans be provoked.

An ambitious project at Catalunya, which saw the club invest over €350m on Ousmane Dembele, Philippe Coutinho and Miralem Pjanic not so long ago has backfired. Now they need to move these players who firstly are injury prone, and also on huge salaries that very few clubs would want to take on especially with the vagaries of the pandemic.

Having Messi on board is among the key reasons some sponsors would want to associate with Barcelona as a brand. It is thus crucial for the club to keep him and among the options being considered is a swap for Saul and Antoinne Griezmann with Atletico Madrid. That too depends largely on the Frenchman’s willingness to help Barcelona by agreeing to the arrangement.

There also the painful fact that it is widely known the club is in a financial crisis and clubs may not be willing to offer what’s commensurate to getting players from Barcelona. Still, it will be a win getting these players off their payroll, though that may not be all, considering the even more painful requirement to pay the amortization fees to Atletico for Griezmann and Liverpool for Coutinho, who hasn’t played much.

It is reported that Messi is just one of the senior players who have accepted to take a pay cut. Gerard Pique, Marc Andre ter Stegen, Clement Lenglet, and Frenkie de Jong have all agreed to that, while talks are on with more members of the team. Barcelona has been reduced to that while also having to deal with potential legal action regarding the handling on players’ contracts.