We’ve known for months that the Lionel Messi “stay or go” saga would be complicated, messy and unpredictable.
None of those three adjectives, however, adequately describe the last two weeks. Every few hours since Messi sent the burofax that turned European soccer upside down on August 25, there’s been a new, seemingly major development.
The latest is, well, confusing. The tweet below from Sid Lowe is a good take on what this has turned into:
announcement that there’s an announcement that there’s going to be an announcement in response to an announcement.
— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) September 4, 2020
Let’s back up a bit before digging into the news that emerged Thursday night and Friday morning (East Coast time).
Lionel Messi transfer to date
In the days following the initial bombshell, we “learned” (who knows what’s really true?) the following, among other things:
- A burofax is not just the Spanish term for a fax. According to For The Win’s Nate Scott, it is a “method of business communication, popular in Spain, that allows people to send a secure document that will be recognized in a court or by a third party.”
- Man City was, many of us believed, where Messi wanted to finish his career. Financially, it would make sense. There’s also the little-known fact that the Argentine has a pretty solid connection with Pep Guardiola and several ex-Barcelona execs now in City’s front office. The Messi-to-City buzz was complete with a plan for an eventual move to City owner CFG’s MLS outpost, NYCFC.
- Barcelona President Josep Maria Bartomeu was – and is – about as scared of Messi leaving as the GOAT is of opposing defenders.
- It’s widely believed that Messi’s deal stated he could opt out and leave Catalonia on a free transfer if he expressed a desire to do that by June 10. If he did not opt out, his release clause was a preposterous €700M ($829M). Nobody’s got that kind of money, especially not right now. It’s also a sum Messi does not want to risk having to pay back if he leaves and a court later rules that he defied his contract. That clause was written under the assumption that the season would be over by that point. It’s unclear what the pandemic extending the season into August means for the validity of that clause — more on this to come!
The latest Lionel Messi transfer rumors
For better or worse*, Lionel Messi’s father, Jorge, has managed the player’s career and affairs since he was a teenager. This week, he flew to Barcelona for crucial meetings between his son and Bartomeu. The word on the street (and by the street I mean the countless outlets reporting/guessing/speculating about what the hell was going on) after day one of those meetings, on Wednesday, was that nothing had changed. It looked like there was no end in sight to the standoff between Messi and the club.
So how the heck did we reach the point on Thursday evening that ESPN.com (whose writers Moises Llorens and Rodrigo Faez seem to have as good a grasp of this thing as anyone) and Marca, among others, were reporting that a “U-turn” by Messi, and an extremely unhappy final season in Barcelona, were legit possibilities??
*Jorge’s impact on his son’s life, and whether Messi should have turned to an agent-by-trade at some point, could be the subject of a book, but we’ll leave that alone for now.
So he’s staying???
From Marca last night: (here’s a link to the English version of the report).
“The reason for Messi’s sudden change of heart is due to Barcelona’s absolute refusal to sell him, which would leave him with the only other option of going to court to terminate his contract which is something that he doesn’t want to do.”
I’d call it more of a “begrudging acceptance of defeat” than a “change of heart.” Regardless of how that should be phrased, personally, I’m starting to believe Messi is going to be denied his wish. Gun to my head, I’d say he’ll play one more season in absolute chaos under a lame duck president and new manager in Ronald Koeman.
Because that opt-out/release clause, according to sources infinitely more knowledgeable of Spanish law than most people would ever hope to be, reportedly is inflexible and does not take into account the pandemic’s effect on this year’s calendar.
The letter of the law does not appear to be Messi’s friend
The Athletic’s Adam Crafton and Dermot Corrigan asked two lawyers for their take in a lengthy, must-read piece titled, “Q&A: How strong is Messi’s legal case? Could he be banned or forced to pay €700m?”
Neither of the lawyers interviewed seems optimistic that the delayed finish to the season renders irrelevant the June 10 date in the contract. One of the lawyers they interviewed, Francisco Dominguez, runs the sports law department at DTR Abogados in Barcelona.
Dominguez: “In Spain, there is a legal article that declares when there is a discussion between the interpretation of a clause, the first option is to apply the literality of the words. The words of the contract are very, very clear. The player must notify the club before June 10.”
So Messi’s understandable hope that the schedule chaos this year would make the June 10 deadline to opt out less firm was likely misguided. Had he weighed his options and made this decision with agents or lawyers by trade, instead of his father, would he have realized this? Probably best to leave that as a rhetorical question.
Did anything else confusing and consequential happen after June 10?
Let’s not forget an underrated development that has somehow been one of the least talked about wrinkles of this story. What has changed in the soccer world since June 10? For one thing, Messi’s preferred destination got some pretty good news in July, when their Champions League ban was overturned.
Why didn’t Messi use his exit clause before June 10th?
Well. On June 10th Manchester City were not playing CL football next season.
Shout out @sidlowe for that piece of wisdom.
Podcast with Sid coming soon! pic.twitter.com/Qg9qA8WRqH
— Ninety Three Twenty (@9320pod) September 2, 2020
Two last things
1) This is all, as we’ve mentioned, slightly fluid, so we’ll update this piece as news breaks, but forgive us if everything we just broke down is old news and/or inaccurate in an hour or two.
2) Bartomeu might be arrested?! It’s
hard impossible to know what to believe, but A) El Mundo is legit and B) he wouldn’t be the first Barcelona president to end up in prison (looking at you, Sandro Rosell). With that in mind, we’ll leave a Football Espana translation/summary of an El Mundo report on Bartomeu facing corruption charges here: “Barcelona president Bartomeu accused of corruption by Catalan police.”