On 5 September 2019, reports surfaced about a clause in Lionel Messi’s Barcelona contract which is sure to make fans very uncomfortable.
Spanish sports media outlet, El Pais, reported that thanks to a clause in one of Messi’s earlier deals with Barcelona, he has the right to walk away from Camp Nou after turning 32. He turned 32 in June of this year, meaning he could have opted to end his 19-year Barcelona career. This also means that he reserves the right to walk away during every birthday after he turned 32 and every transfer window that comes if he puts pen to paper on the new contract which the board are offering him.
He is currently contracted to the club till 2021, a contract which was signed in 2017, but the Catalan side are trying to convince their star player to renew for a few more years and he has not spoken with the board about it or had any meeting to discuss new terms in the new contract, instead focusing on his football at the moment.
He is not the first player the club has had this agreement with however. Barca legends Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez all had this clause inserted in their contracts. The clause seems like the Barcelona setup’s ultimate sign of belief in a player judging by the calibre of players who have gotten this clause inserted into their contracts.
This is generating a lot of nervousness in the hierarchy of the club. However, this energy should be channeled a bit more into building for the post-Messi era of Barcelona.
There will never be another Lionel Messi, and it is totally understandable for the club to be this invested in him renewing his contract beyond 2021. However, the Messidependencia which has been the biggest problem of the club since the mercurial Argentine came full circle is not being addressed properly. Messi cannot play forever, no matter how many years he renews for.
The club has tailored their spending in the past to get players who complement Messi and have paid little attention to how they will play without Messi. This season, they brought in Antoine Griezmann and pursued Neymar (who they let go in 2017) till the very last minutes of the transfer window, and have already released statements that they will go back for him in the subsequent transfer windows.
Barcelona struggles without Messi despite having very good players who will make it on their own in other clubs. This gives some credence to statements made by Messi critics which in the past which have claimed that Messi chooses the Barcelona team and he limits their ability. When he plays, he is the major goalscoring and attacking threat, either starting and finishing moves, or creating chances for his teammates. While the chances he creates for his teammates make them look better, they have shown in the past how lost they can be without him. The start to this season shows this greatly.
While we can claim that Griezmann – a player who can prove to be as influential as Messi in the long run – has not found his best spot on the team, or blame the injury to Luis Suarez which drove Ernesto Valverde to move Griezmann centrally, a position he has stated as not being suitable for him in the past, it leaves a lot to be questioned. The clubs positional coaches and technical team need to start coming up with enough tactics that will reduce Messidependencia, while the board needs to invest in the La Masia enough to raise the next Messi, while looking for players who can be as influential as Messi.
Messi has been perennially linked with a return to Argentina and Newell’s Old Boys, the club where he first played as a kid and pre-teen before Barcelona scooped him up, and he has admitted in the past that he wants to play for his boyhood club before the end of his career. This statement will hold more water now that Messi has turned 32.
Interesting times lie ahead.