A year after Lionel Messi left Barcelona, we can evaluate how his transfer to Paris Saint-Germain affected both Barcelona and Messi personally.

Aug 5, 2022

On August 11 in Austria, FC Salzburg shocked Barcelona with a goal from American international Brenden Aaronson in a friendly match. On January 4, 2021, the club president of Barcelona, Joan Laporta, was using his phone to alert the rest of the club's traveling delegation to a problem. The nature of Laporta's frantic calls was revealed less than 24 hours later, when the Catalan club made the announcement that rocked football: Lionel Messi was leaving.

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Messi, then 34 years old, moved to Barcelona from Argentina when he was 16 and stayed there for 20 years. During that time, he played in and scored in a club record 778 games and 672 times. He was named the best player in the world six times (and for a seventh time since leaving) and won four Champions Leagues and eleven LaLiga titles. It's impossible to imagine Barça without Messi, just as it's impossible to picture Messi wearing the jersey of another club.

Frenkie de Jong, a midfielder for Barcelona, couldn't believe the news as he picked up his family from the airport. Spanish Twitch streamer Ibai Llanos was with striker Sergio Aguero when the news broke, and Aguero, like De Jong, didn't want to believe it. Aguero had just signed with Barca in part because he wanted to play with his longtime friend Messi. The Barca website had been hacked, he was sure of it. Aguero, still unwilling to accept the reality, thought it must be a ploy to get Barca registered with LaLiga so they can sign Messi, who is the most valuable player in Spanish football.

Neither of those explanations held water, as it turned out. Barca's €1.35 billion debt from years of overspending and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the club could not afford to sign Messi to a new contract, and the player subsequently signed a free transfer with French club Paris Saint-Germain.

After a year, both his former club in Spain and his new club in France are still reeling from the impact of the transfer, and Messi's future beyond the 2022-23 season is more uncertain than ever. There is a one-year extension clause in his contract with PSG, which would take effect on July 1, 2023. But first, ESPN's Sam Marsden and Julien Laurens will walk you through the steps that led to this very moment.

This article features reporting and analysis by Moises Llorens and Eduardo Fernandez-Abascal.

There is still a glimmer of hope that Lionel Messi will one day return to the club that made him, Barcelona, after his departure a year ago. The book, however, remains closed for the time being. Getty Images/Eric Alonso

The Reason Why

One club executive told ESPN, "The warning signs were there in Salzburg." That's when I realized how complicated everything was.

"As the hours wore on, things went from bad to worse, culminating in a series of phone calls between vice president Rafa Yuste and Laporta and Jorge Messi, Messi's father and agent." The heated nature of those discussions was not appreciated by anyone. It ended in Barcelona, after the expedition had returned from Salzburg. At roughly 6 o m via a club announcement made on August 5. The final curtain fell on the career of Barca's greatest player. "

Since Messi's previous contract had expired on June 30, his sudden departure was all the more surprising considering he had already agreed to terms on a new contract with a 50% pay cut to help Barca economically. On Aug Five, Jorge was scheduled to arrive in Barcelona from Buenos Aires in order to seal the deal.

Sources close to the negotiations told ESPN, "Jorge had a meeting with Laporta and a notary from Barcelona early in the afternoon to go over the two-year contract and sign the documents." "Discussions had taken a long time, but after Laporta's March election, everything appeared fine. But when Jorge landed, Laporta called and said, "Jorge, don't go to the notary, the club's situation is not the best and we're not going to be able to sign the agreement, I am so sorry." Jorge then called his son to tell him the news. "

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There is still some disagreement a year later over when exactly Laporta learned Messi would not be renewing his contract with the club. ESPN's sources all agreed that Messi and his teammates were taken aback by the news, but they offered conflicting accounts of when Laporta was injured.

According to the official story, he did everything he could up until the very end to avoid accepting LaLiga's CVC deal, which would have meant giving up 10% of Barca's domestic television rights. Laporta's reluctance to sign that agreement was consistent. However, other sources claim that Laporta and his closest associates knew it would be financially difficult to renew Messi's contract a long time ago.

Messi's departure was ironic in that he actually wanted to stay, in contrast to his departure in the summer of 2020, when he requested to leave via the infamous Burofax from the administration of then-president Josep Maria Bartomeu. He had discussions with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola.

After a year, on August Messi held a tearful farewell news conference to the club on August 8, three days after Barca's statement, with former teammates De Jong and Aguero in attendance. On Aug On October 10th, he joined PSG.

An ESPN source claimed that Messi "was certain he was staying." After signing the contract, he discussed returning to work with a few people. As far as we know, that has never occurred. The president failed to keep his promise. He assured Messi a deal would be reached, but negotiations eventually broke down. Messi had submitted a transfer request (a "Burofax") in the previous summer, during which he was sure he wanted to leave the team. He had already decided. When he wanted to stay, he stayed, and when he wanted to go, he left. "

Initiated by: Sam Marsden

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After a trying first season in Paris, forward Lionel Messi is discussed by Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens.

As to why Messi left Barcelona,

Messi wanted to leave in 2020 because of the "lies" he heard from Bartomeu and the inability of the club to form a championship-caliber team around him. Even though the board had initially denied Messi's request to leave, he ultimately did so because of the club's mounting debts following an 8-2 Champions League loss to Bayern Munich in 2020.

That's the state of affairs that Laporta stepped into. Barca's spending was already out of control before Neymar's record-breaking €222 million transfer to PSG in 2017. Spending, such as Messi's €550 million, four-year contract, became unsustainable as soon as the pandemic hit and revenue dropped. Bartomeu was voted out as club president at the end of 2020 due to the club's financial woes, Messi's desire to leave, and a trophy-less season.

Enter Laporta, whose flair for the dramatic did not translate into an immediate solution to the club's financial difficulties. Barca borrowed heavily from Goldman Sachs last summer just to meet payroll needs, and the club lost €487 million in 2020-21. Laporta said in June that the club was "clinically dead," but he was confident they would recover and leave the intensive care unit soon. After selling a 25% stake in the club's domestic television rights and another 25% stake in the in-house production company, Barca Studios, for around €700m in total, he spent over €150m on the signings of Robert Lewandowski, Raphinha, and Jules Kounde during the current transfer window.

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According to sources, last summer's hectic schedule prevented any major operations from being carried out to keep Messi. Activating the "economic levers" this summer required not only negotiation, but also approval from the club's members, including the sale of a portion of the television rights and Barca Studios. This approval was given back in June.

Apparently, Laporta was taken aback by how stringent LaLiga’s financial regulations were, as other sources have explained. Messi did not leave Barca because of their debts per se, but rather because of the impact those debts had on the club's ability to spend. The LaLiga wage cap was reduced from nearly €600 million to under €100 million at the beginning of last season, limiting their spending to just 25% of their surplus. Messi's contract still wouldn't be approved by the league even if his salary was cut in half.

However, there was a strikeout. If Barca had accepted CVC's offer, they would have received over €200m in salary space from LaLiga in exchange for 10% of their television rights for 50 years. The club's future, according to Laporta, would have been "mortgaged." While Barça, Real Madrid, and Athletic Club all declined to sign the agreement, the remaining 17 LaLiga teams did.

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When he left, sources said, Messi was truly devastated, but some have since wondered why he didn't try harder to stay. He claimed he had already done everything he could by agreeing to a pay cut from the club, but was there anything else he could have done? Perhaps, but the LaLiga salary cap formula would not have let him play for nothing.

A league spokesman told ESPN, "The salary can be lowered, but due to the financial control rules, each player has a margin for reduction depending on different variables, such as age, experience, and titles." "So you can't play for free or for a "lower" wage than what would be appropriate for that player in a competitive market." This is done to ensure that the salary is paid through the appropriate tax channels and not with "intangible" funds to combat fraud. "

"Sam Marsden" --

While Laporta and Messi got along well, the club officially gave up on keeping their most legendary player on August 1. 5, 2021 A David Ramos/Getty Images photo

Barcelona felt the effects.

When he first joined the Barcelona team, Messi was a timid, frizzy-haired teen. However, he quickly established himself as a team leader. Not always the loudest, his presence was felt by everyone on the team, and he had that special something that only the very best athletes have.

A member of the coaching staff said to ESPN, "It was a huge blow for everyone" when Messi left. It was a funeral, really, the first meeting without him. It felt like the day after it was announced in 2012 that Guardiola would not be returning as coach. There was total silence, no lighthearted banter. No one could believe what they were seeing. "

Some reports, however, also state that training sessions were frequently timed to Messi's music. It was almost like starting over without him.

The coach went on to say that "things improved as the days passed," and that "the feeling was that the atmosphere of recent years relaxed a bit." The team's cohesiveness improved, and "you started to see players who hardly spoke when Messi was present start to step forward." Differences in training with and without Messi The group relaxed, and the coaches saw that there were areas where the team could experiment and tighten up.

Messi had always been the barometer of success. If he was content, things worked out. Few would have the courage to ask him if he was sad. Not due to any sort of fear, but rather due to deference to one's status as a leader of the group. "

After last year's opening day victory over Real Sociedad, Gerard Pique said, "we are going to have a lot of fun this year." However, that remark has not held up well over time, and after 10 games, with Barca sitting in ninth place in the league, they fired coach Ronald Koeman.

Xavi took over as manager and has set Barcelona back on the right track, but things are far from perfect since Messi's departure. Getty Pictures

Messi's old teammate and future Barça legend Xavi arrived soon after to take charge, and after an initially difficult period of acclimation, he guided Barca to a runner-up finish in the league. Despite the addition of players like Ferran Torres, Memphis Depay, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in 2021, the team failed to win a championship and none of the attackers even came close to replacing Messi's production. While young midfielders Pedri and Gavi were bright spots, Barca were a shell of the team that Messi had led to glory.

The rot was evident in the stands as the number of empty seats continued to rise. Camp Nou's official capacity is close to 100,000, but the 2021-22 LaLiga season ended with an average attendance of 53,982 due to factors such as the reduced crowds for the first few matches due to COVID-19. Still, that was over 20,000 fewer than the full season prior to the pandemic of 2018–19. Those who continued to show up to games after Koeman was replaced by Xavi quickly stopped cheering for Messi.

Another source from inside the locker room revealed, "Messi's name was sung in the 10th minute [his shirt number] at Camp Nou in the games immediately following his departure, but that soon stopped." Given that Messi is the greatest player in the history of the club, it was odd." There's no way that everybody forgot about him so quickly. "

Barca told ESPN that the impact of Messi's departure to PSG is "hard to gauge" until the club's financial statements from last season are made public later this year. The value of Barca's new sponsorship deal with Spotify is comparable to that of the previous deal agreed upon with Rakuten in 2017, when Messi, Luis Suarez, and Neymar were all still playing for the club. However, that Rakuten offer only applied to the men's shirt.

While vice president Eduard Romeu denied that Messi's departure would have a significant impact on sponsorship revenue, he did say that some of the club's partners were unhappy with his departure. Romeu did not specify which sponsor had complained, but ESPN reported that it was one of the club's major backers. Companies that have long-term sponsorship deals with Barca had counted on using Messi's likeness to boost product sales all over the world.

After Messi, Romeu acknowledged Barca needed to do a better job of promoting its other players. He claimed that in the past, shirts with names on the back accounted for half of all shirt sales. About 80% of those 50% had Messi's name on them.

This advertising helps to clarify the club's acrobatics with money this summer. Sources say they need Poland international striker Robert Lewandowski (238 goals in eight Bundesliga seasons) not only to replace Messi's goals, but also to help sell shirts and add appeal for potential future sponsorship deals. Despite being more tactical additions, Barca sees long-term marketing value in playmaker Raphinha and defender Kounde. If the pitch went well right away, things would move along more quickly.

"Sam Marsden" --

In all seriousness Juls wonders why Laporta hinted at a Messi comeback.

Both Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta have been linked to a return to Barcelona, which Gab and Juls discuss.

Paris Saint-Germain's Reaction

"We can't really quantify the impact Messi is having on the club, but we know the club has moved to the next level." It will take a few more years before we fully grasp how enormous this is. "

A PSG insider sums up the Messi era in Paris like this. It's true that the absence of these superstars is when their absence is most keenly felt. However, the change was noticeable from Messi's first day in the French capital on. It felt like a city-wide celebration, and no matter the outcome, this transfer will go down as the largest in French football history. As a result, not only was the league shaken up, but the entire landscape shifted.

One of the most immediate effects is monetary. World-famous companies were already reaching out to PSG's marketing department as president Nasser al-Khelaifi, former sporting director Leonardo, and general manager Jean-Claude Blanc finalized the signing of Messi. Only five months after Messi's arrival, in January 2022, PSG already had more new sponsors (eight) than Messi had goals (six). Dior is one of the new sponsors, and they're thrilled to have Messi, Kylian Mbappe, and Neymar representing the brand. Both Nike and Coca-Cola increased their already substantial sponsorship deals with PSG.

According to insiders, Messi has increased PSG's revenue by 15%-20% in his first season. Seeing as how their fans in Tokyo and Osaka were most eager to see Messi, PSG wasted no time organizing a €10 million preseason trip to Japan this summer. PSG broke all previous records for shirt sales, not that it generates that much money for clubs in general, by selling over a million shirts, with Messi responsible for about 40% of those sales. Finally, Messi's arrival proved even more remarkable on social media, with the club gaining an additional 15 million followers across all platforms in the wake of the news.

The difference wasn't as glaring on the field, though. Messi found it difficult to adjust to his new surroundings and culture in a new city. His wife Antonella missed Barcelona, and his three sons were initially unhappy. The family's French mastiff, Hulk, felt the gloom as well. Everything from the craziness of Parisian traffic to settling into a new city, school, and home required adjustment.

After that, there was football. Messi's participation in the Copa America, where he and Argentina defeated Brazil in the final, and the events surrounding Barcelona prevented him from having an ideal preseason. He had to spend the majority of the season getting in shape after arriving unprepared. In the winter, he caught COVID-19 and it was very difficult for him to recover.

PSG fans were ecstatic when Messi signed with the club in 2021, but his first year wasn't the dominant success many had hoped for. Photograph by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP/Getty Images

The changing room was also brand new. Even though there were people he knew, like Neymar, Leandro Paredes, and Angel Di Maria, he was no longer in charge. He had trouble communicating due to language barriers and hung out mostly with Di Maria and Paredes. In addition, he had a rocky working relationship with Mauricio Pochettino. Even though they were both making the best of a difficult situation, they didn't always agree with one another. Messi was particularly upset about being substituted late in a game against Lyon. His expression to his boss said it all.

Messi finished the season with 11 goals and 15 assists in 34 games across all competitions, and he also hit the post 11 times in Ligue 1 alone, the most of any player in Europe. PSG won Ligue 1 but were eliminated in the round of 16 by Real Madrid, so while he had some great moments (scoring against Manchester City at the Parc des Princes and dishing out three assists against Saint-Etienne), he also had some quiet ones.

But anticipation is rising for Messi's second season. Now that he has found a permanent home, members of the club believe he will have a breakout season. Without Mbappe, he helped PSG to a 4-0 victory in the Trophee des Champions on Sunday against Nantes, scoring his first goal of the season with a great finish.

According to ESPN's sources, both Messi and the new coach, Christophe Galtier, who replaced Pochettino this summer, get along well, and Messi is pleased with his role in the team's new 3-4-2-1 formation. He's become a lot more of a team player in the locker room, where he's much more centered, at ease, The move to Paris has been good for his family, and he now has his sights set on winning a record fifth Champions League title with Paris Saint-Germain. If he wants to perform at a high level for Argentina at the 2022 World Cup later this year, he will need to find form and consistency in France.

And Hulk has gotten over his depression.

By Julien Laurens

Messi has one year left on his contract in Paris (with an additional year as an option), and his future plans are a source of much speculation. And now, when they seemed to have moved on, Barcelona is lining up to sign him, despite the fact that he will be 36 years old when his contract with PSG expires.

Laporta spent Barca's recent tour of the United States advocating for a possible return for Messi, despite the club's January signings of Torres and Aubameyang and summer arrivals of Lewandowski, Raphinha, and others.

Speaking to ESPN in Las Vegas, he said, "I would hope that the Messi chapter isn't over." "I believe we ought to make an effort to ( ) take a few minutes to make sure that unfinished chapter ends the way it should and with a happier, more satisfying conclusion. "

Laporta has always been receptive to the idea of Messi joining the team, though he has only ever suggested a non-playing role for Messi in the past. This time, while he is still in the game, he has hinted that it is possible. Xavi is receptive to the idea because he and Messi played together for over a decade. While he admits that signing Messi on a free transfer this summer is "impossible," he has not ruled it out entirely.

The Messi camp was apparently taken aback by Laporta's recent comments. Prior to Messi's departure, their relationship was positive. The comments made by Laporta in the months following Messi's departure, in which he implied that he could have done more to keep him, did not help matters. As a result, Laporta reportedly received a call from Messi's father, who demanded that he stop talking about his son. After respecting that for a while, Laporta is once again discussing Messi, albeit in a way that may leave some fans more conflicted than they were before.

Laporta's offensive comes at an unusual time. The tide appeared to be turning with Xavi at the helm and a strong team assembled this summer, as well as promising up-and-comers like Pedri, Gavi, and Ansu Fati. If Messi returned at age 36, how would he be received?

Messi's close confidants aren't interested in discussing that theory just yet. They claim he is only concerned with the immediate future at this point in his career. He is extremely motivated right now to win the World Cup and the Champions League with PSG. Almost anywhere can be an option for the future, from Paris to Barcelona to the United States. Up to and including the letter S

– Sam Marsden

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