In the infamous words of Gerard Piqué: Se queda.
He stays. But actually, this time.
By this point it should not be seen as a surprise, but 11 months after declaring his intentions to play for another club, Lionel Messi isn't going to be leaving Barcelona after all. According to Spanish outlet Sport and ESPN, Messi will stay at Barcelona on a five-year deal, one that reportedly includes a 50% pay reduction (his previous contract, as reported by El Mundo, was worth up to $673 million over four years if all incentives were hit). Messi was always going to have to meet Barcelona halfway considering the club's financial limitations and mounting debt, and he has evidently taken that quite literally.
The big surprise here, however, is the length of the deal. While recent reports had hinted at a two-year deal that would have extended his stay while also leaving the door open for a final chapter elsewhere, a five-year accord would suggest that isn't necessarily in the offing. The length could potentially help alleviate some of the financial stress in the form of amortization, but if he sees out the entirety of the deal, then he'll remain in the blaugrana through the next two World Cup cycles and likely end his career as a one-club man. He'll be 39 by the time it expires.
It had become quite evident in recent months, at least from the outside looking in, that Messi's desire to leave Barcelona had waned. His nemesis and target of his ire last August, ex-president Josep Bartomeu, had resigned and an adversary in Joan Laporta reclaimed the role. Barcelona won the Copa del Rey, and even though it choked down the stretch of La Liga's title race, Messi's demeanor was not that of a player who was taking in his final days at the only club he's ever known as a professional.
A new crop of young talent has started to break through at the club—namely Pedri, Ansu Fati and Ilaix Moriba—and the only realistic suitors, Man City and PSG, appeared to have called off the cavalry some time ago. Messi's contract expired when June did. He technically won Copa América, thus ending a long-running saga with Argentina, as a free agent. But he's never truly not been a Barcelona player.
There is still ample reason to be skeptical of precisely how Barcelona can afford this in addition to registering its new signings. Sergio Agüero, Memphis Depay and Eric Garcia all arrived on free transfers, but their wages are not insignificant, while La Liga's financial restraints have caused league president Javier Tebas to issue a warning to Barcelona about trying to skirt the rules just to keep its star. Multiple reports have suggested that Barcelona needs to shed 200 million euros from the books to be able to proceed, and while Tebas didn't say that explicitly, he did speak in no uncertain terms.
"No, I won't [turn a blind eye] for Messi, it's impossible. There are many workers [at La Liga] and in the economic control [department] as well," Tebas recently told Radio Marca. "We often have to explain [the rules] to agents and players because they don't know about it or think clubs are deceiving them, and we've had to explain it in recent years.
"We'll have to analyze everything properly, because if there are dismissals for economic reasons but then they bring in Messi and others ... we'd have to look into that.
"Right now, I can only give my opinion, and that is that it is odd that there has been no offer [for Messi] from Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain. And I firmly believe there isn't and that the player wants to stay."
There are still some high-priced assets that could be offloaded. Antoine Griezmann, despite the strides made later last season, has ultimately been an awkward fit since he arrived at Camp Nou and is reportedly a candidate to be on the way out—potentially even returning to Atlético Madrid in a reported swap involving Saúl Ñíguez. Philippe Coutinho is another costly figure who would be better suited elsewhere, even if he's sold at a fraction of the price it cost Barcelona to buy him from Liverpool. At a yard sale where the buyers have the leverage, the asking price isn't typically what's agreed upon.
From a romanticized viewpoint, Messi staying put and potentially closing the door to a retirement tour in MLS or elsewhere is a breath of fresh air. It would objectively be weird to see him playing in another shirt, especially at a place where he has no prior attachment, and while one-club players are increasingly becoming relics, some stars just belong in certain locations. It also would have been a shame if his final season at Barcelona had been one played without fans. If he were ever to leave Camp Nou, then you would expect the final moments to be an occasion fit for a legend, quite like Andres Iniesta's farewell.
Messi's play, meanwhile, remains prolific. He led La Liga in scoring yet again last season and won best player honors at Copa América, which makes him a chief candidate to claim a record seventh Ballon d'Or. He has a club-record 672 goals in his 16 seasons at the club and just passed Xavi's record for club appearances with 778. Both figures will grow this coming season—and evidently over the next five—as what appeared to be a relationship headed for splitsville has instead turned definitively toward reconciliation.
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