If Carles Tusquets had been running Barcelona during this past summer's soap opera, Lionel Messi would be wearing a different jersey right now.
The interim president, who stepped in after Josep Bartomeu and the board of directors resigned in late October, said that, financially speaking, selling Messi would have been the wise move and one he would have taken.
Messi requested to leave the only club he's ever known as a professional last summer. His ask came after the club's first trophy-less season since 2007-2008, and he believed he could leave for free despite having a year to run on his contract based on an agreement he'd reached with Bartomeu. The wording in his deal evidently meant that the free-exit clause expired in June, when last season would have normally ended. The pandemic extended play into August, though, and Bartomeu was not only steadfast that Messi could not leave, but he would not sell him for any fee, either. Messi wound up staying solely to avoid taking the club he loves to court, but he did not mince words in revealing his decision and hasn't cut a very happy figure on the field ever since. Tusquets would have managed things quite differently, according to comments made on Thursday.
"Speaking from a financial standpoint, yes," Tusquets told Catalan radio station RAC1 when discussing whether selling Messi was the right play. "But that is something that would have had to have been absolutely agreed with the coaching staff. From an economic standpoint, it would have been desirable to sell Messi."
Barcelona, like many clubs these days, is in dire financial straits, with first-team personnel taking pay cuts and new signings only possible if there's a corresponding outgoing move. In early October, Barcelona announced $118 million in losses for last season, which ballooned the club's debt to $593 million. It sold off veterans and high wage-earners such as Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Arturo Vidal, but there's still a long way to go to make up the gap, and with La Liga instituting a soft salary cap, Barcelona was in need of reducing its payroll by 40%. Selling Messi for a sizable fee and removing his astronomical wages from the books would have gone a long way toward balancing things out.
Messi's current contract expires at the end of this season, meaning he is eligible to reach a pre-contract agreement with another club as soon as this January. With Barcelona presidential elections moved up to Jan. 24, the player and the club's new ruling regime will have some significant decisions to make regarding Messi's future.
One of the leading candidates to become Barcelona's next president, Joan Laporta (who served as president from 2003-2010), said that he would make keeping Messi in a Barcelona shirt for the duration of his career a priority.
“I speak with him regularly, we have contact, but I haven't talked to him for a long time. To talk about his renewal, I need to have the authority of the presidency to make him a proposal that I can fulfill,” Laporta said in a separate Catalan radio interview. “He knows that whatever I promise him, I will keep. Messi makes a difference both financially and sporting-wise. … Leo loves Barça and would help the club. We will make him imaginative proposals. I trust he will wait for a new president [to be installed] before he decides his future.
“Barça would survive [if he leaves], but it is better that he stays, although it will not be easy. It will not be a matter of money; it will be a matter of love.”
Former Barcelona star Neymar threw another curveball into the mix when he candidly stated after PSG's Champions League win at Manchester United on Wednesday that he wants to reunite with Messi next season.
"What I want most of all is to play with Messi again, to be able to enjoy him once again on the pitch," Neymar said. "He can play in my place, I have no problem with that! But I want to play with him next year, for sure. We have to do it next season."
That doesn't figure to take place at Barcelona, where affording a transfer fee to bring Neymar back after selling him to PSG in 2017 in a world-record move is seemingly not in the cards without a massive squad overhaul (never mind the legal squabbles between the player and his former club). Tusquets addressed the possibility of a Neymar return in his remarks Thursday as well.
"If he comes as a free agent, we could consider it," Tusquets said. "If not, there is no money [for a transfer] unless there's a new president that holds a miracle in his hand. If we do sell [players] and the coaching staff is in agreement, then why not?"
PSG is one of the few clubs who could afford Messi in a pandemic, with Manchester City widely considered to be Messi's most likely landing spot should he ultimately leave the club. Current Man City and former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola is on the record multiple times as having said he hopes Messi plays out his career at Barcelona.