Just a few weeks ago, it seemed inconceivable that Lionel Messi might leave Barcelona. However, seven weeks after an announcement that both parties had agreed on a new contract, to run through June 2021, rumors of a breakup persist.
The new deal will pay Messi $645,000 per week, and it includes a release clause of $340,000,000 ― if it is signed, that is.
But it has yet to be signed, despite protestations from Barcelona officials that “we are just looking for the right time for the signature.”
As things stand, it would not be difficult to convince Barcelona fans that now is exactly the right time.
Barcelona is staggering like a boxer who has taken so many rights that he is begging for a left.
Stunned by Paris Saint-Germain’s audacious move to trigger Neymar’s contract release clause of over $250M, seemingly knocked back three times by Liverpool in a quest to sign midfielder Philippe Coutinho and twice defeated emphatically by bitter rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup, the institution that is FC Barcelona is reeling.
President Josep Maria Bartomeu is under intense pressure, and he may face a no-confidence motion from club members in the days to come.
In looking to buy players, Barcelona has been confronted with clubs unwilling to sell (Liverpool) and clubs that have refused to budge from an asking price (Borussia Dortmund). (Paying $50M to sign the Brazilian Paulinho from Guangzhou Evergrande of the Chinese Super League has only led to even more speculation as to the competence of Barcelona’s management team.)
Ousmane Dembele has become Barcelona’s primary target, but Borussia Dortmund has turned down bids of $106M and $153M and value the 20-year-old Frenchman at $175M.
Dembele is under contract with Dortmund until 2021, but his attempts to force the German club to sell him to Barcelona led to his indefinite suspension almost two weeks ago.
Just a little over 12 months ago, Dortmund signed Dembele from Rennes of Ligue 1 in France for $15M.
Such is the escalation in transfer fees that, should Dortmund persuade Barcelona to pony up $175M, Rennes will earn nearly three times as much money through a 25% sell-on fee as the club did through the initial sale.
Dembele is likely the closest Barcelona is going to get in terms of replacing Neymar, although he is five years younger and far from a finished article.
Nonetheless, the signing of Dembele would probably go a long way to convincing Messi he should extend his time with Barcelona. Although now on the wrong side of 30, the Argentine star remains Barcelona’s most valuable asset both on the field and off it.
Messi has scored almost 300 goals for Barcelona in the last eight La Liga seasons and 504 goals in total since making his first appearance for Barcelona in 2004.
Hovering in the background is Manchester City, and Messi’s former coach Pep Guardiola. If Messi were to move, Manchester City would be the logical choice, and there is no doubt he would be welcomed with open arms.
Many in the media have speculated that Manchester City would be willing to trigger the contract release clause of $340M. However, $340M is the amount attached to the new unsigned contract. The release clause in his current contract has a considerably cheaper figure: “only” $270M. Under such circumstances, at least Barcelona would receive the money.
The real nightmare scenario is that Messi and his advisers balk at the new deal on offer and instead see out the remainder of his existing deal, becoming able to start negotiations with Manchester City or other prospective suitors in January ― in just five months.
There was a time, not so long ago, that any mention of a release clause in a player’s contract was regarded as a cross between a source of mirth and a headline grabber.
It was as if the number had been plucked out of midair, looking so ridiculous that no team could entertain a sane thought of paying it.
That all changed with PSG and Neymar. With that one move, Barcelona’s valuation of Messi ― old contract or new ― suddenly looks understated.
Here are the values placed on some of the world’s best players. (Messi’s release clause value is based on the contract that is yet to be signed.)