Messi’s future up in the air as PSG entente comes to an end

Barcelona do not have the financial resources to bring the Argentina captain back to Camp Nou and his only offer at the moment is from Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal

FC Barcelona
Lionel Messi, during PSG's loss against Bayern in the Champions League.SARAH MEYSSONNIER (REUTERS)

Lionel Messi’s time in Paris is coming to an end. The Argentina captain, who led his country to the World Cup in Qatar last year, placing him in a good position to win an eighth Ballon d’Or award, did not report for training at Paris Saint-Germain’s Camp des Loges complex on Wednesday after the Ligue 1 club suspended him for two weeks after he made an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia in his capacity as a tourism ambassador for the country. According to L’Equipe, Messi’s pay will be docked for the duration of his suspension and any remote chance of the former Barcelona forward extending his contract in the French capital has now evaporated. Messi signed a two-year deal with an optional third season at the Parc des Princes, but his father, Jorge Messi, reportedly told PSG sporting director Luis Campos a few weeks ago that the option would not be taken up, citing a lack of direction in the club’s sporting project. Messi has not made any public declaration following his suspension, seeking to end his time at the club on a positive note with another Ligue 1 title. According to PSG sources consulted by EL PAÍS, there is little desire within the club for Messi to remain: “We want players who are committed to the club, to the fans, and to Paris.”

Every negotiation led by Jorge Messi starts with the same question: “What will the team be like next season?” in February, he met with the PSG hierarchy for what appeared to be a straightforward agreement to extend Messi’s stay after a verbal agreement had been reached last year. However, things swiftly went in another direction. The issue was not, according to both parties, a financial one. “Messi and Neymar get paid less than [Kylian] Mbappé, but as they are foreigners they enjoy better tax benefits,” say the same sources. But PSG’s immediate future remains unclear. The club was unable to provide Messi with any guarantees over new players, or even who the manager will be next season. PSG’s Qatari owners do not like to be kept waiting and Messi does not like to lose. As such, when Bayern Munich knocked PSG out of the Champions League, the Argentinean knew there little for him left to do in Paris.

Barcelona, who have long desired to bring Messi back to Camp Nou, began to examine the books to see if a move was viable. However, the club is in dire financial straits and has implemented a sweeping range of measures to cut costs. “We have €800 million in income and €1 billion in expenses,” say Camp Nou sources. As things stand, Barça will present LaLiga with a scenario in which the club’s budget for the 2023-24 season will be €120 million less than this year. Among the cost-cutting measures are salary cuts for 200 employees, which will spare the club €20 million. The closure of the team’s official television channel, Barça TV, has already been announced, saving another €15 million. Further reductions in the pay packages for the first-team squad are also being considered. Director of football Mateu Alemany has already spoken to some senior players on the issue. “They are asking us for something similar to what we did during Covid [when the players agreed to salary reductions totaling €120 million over three years],” say sources in the dressing room.

However, everything is up in the air after Alemany announced that he will leave the club at the end of the season. Sporting director Jordi Cruyff, son of Barça legend Johan, is unsure if he will remain. What is more than certain is that Barcelona cannot afford to sign any players unless they sell first, although the club’s accountants say it is a more a matter of meeting the salary cap than transfer revenue.

Among the players that Barcelona may look to move on are (Ansu Fati, Ferran Torres, Franck Kessié and Raphinha, but first the club needs to register contracts that have already been agreed, such as those of Ronald Araujo, Gavi, Marcos Alonso, Sergi Roberto and Íñigo Martínez, who has a verbal agreement to move to Camp Nou from Athletic Bilbao. Furthermore, say sources at LaLiga, “Messi’s contract cannot be less than €25m, based on the calculations we have made with respect to what he earns at PSG.”

Messi remains up to the minute with goings-on at Barcelona and watches the team’s matches, and is therefore aware that these are difficult times for his former club, which is mired in the Negreira refereeing scandal — for which the club remains under investigation and faces a possible sanction by UEFA — and due to move to the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys while renovation work is carried out at Camp Nou.

With a third season at PSG ruled out and Barcelona in economic straits, Messi is in limbo. The Argentina captain has a sensational offer to join Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia, where Al-Hilal have tabled a deal worth €400 million a season. He is also a long-standing target for MLS side Inter Miami, co-owned by David Beckham.

Messi during a Liga game against Real Sociedad.
Messi during a Liga game against Real Sociedad.Albert Gea (Reuters)

Barcelona players keen to reunite with Messi

While Messi’s return to Camp Nou will be difficult financially, he would be welcomed with open arms by his former teammates. “There is a lack of leadership here. There is a lack of a contagious player. Lewandowski goes his own way, Jordi Alba is like he is and Busquets doesn’t know what he’s going to do,” says a first-team player. “If Leo comes back, it will create something different. His presence makes winning obligatory,” adds a veteran of the Barcelona squad. But it’s not just the old guard who want Messi back. “For young guys like Gavi, Pedri and Araujo, it’s a dream to play with Leo,” says a Barça employee. The coaching staff too, led by Xavi, with whom Messi enjoyed such success, have been pushing for a reunion for some time.

However, not everyone at Barcelona views Messi’s return through rose-tinted glasses. There are those at Camp Nou who think the Argentinean would overshadow the emergence of new leaders within the squad — as well as resurrecting some bad habits. Nor would it help Barça’s drive to rejuvenate the team, particularly if Busquets and Jordi Alba opt to stay at the club.

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