Lionel Messi MADRID, SPAIN – MAY 27: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team’s first goal during the Copa Del Rey Final between FC Barcelona and Deportivo Alaves at Vicente Calderon stadium on May 27, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

There’s been lots of discussion recently about what’s ahead for Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi, with his contract at FC Barcelona expiring July 1. Last month, Sky Sports and others reported that the sides had verbally agreed on a five-year deal with a 50 percent salary reduction. However, on Thursday, Barcelona announced that they were unable to register his new contract with La Liga due to the league’s spending restrictions, and that he’ll be heading elsewhere:

Despite FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi having reached an agreement and the clear intention of both parties to sign a new contract today, this cannot happen because of financial and structural obstacles (Spanish Liga regulations).

As a result of this situation, Messi shall not be staying on at FC Barcelona. Both parties deeply regret that the wishes of the player and the club will ultimately not be fulfilled.

FC Barcelona wholeheartedly expresses its gratitude to the player for his contribution to the aggrandisement of the club and wishes him all the very best for the future in his personal and professional life.

ESPN’s Samuel Marsden and Moises Llorens have more context:

Spanish clubs must comply with a spending limit, which includes money spent on salaries and signings, determined by LaLiga.

Barca’s spending stood at over €600 million prior to the coronavirus pandemic but was reduced to €347m last season and is expected to be slashed even further for the upcoming campaign.

Therefore, to register Messi’s new contract with the league, the Catalan club needed to reduce their wage bill or bring in a significant amount of money in transfers.

However, the club have failed to move on big earners such as Miralem Pjanic, Philippe Coutinho and Samuel Umtiti and have so far failed to reach an agreement with some of the club’s longer-serving players over wage cuts.

It’s unclear as of now where Messi will move to. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have been mentioned, but others could enter the picture. He’s 34, but he’s still been playing at a high level; he scored 38 goals in 47 appearances (all competitions) for Barcelona last season, played an important role in Argentina’s Copa America win this summer (four goals in seven appearances), and finished third in voting for The Best FIFA Men’s Player award. And he has a significant fanbase, making him an attractive signing for many clubs.

In fact, you can bet that ESPN is unhappy about this news. They just signed an eight-year deal for U.S. La Liga rights this spring, and are showing Barcelona’s opening August 15 league match against Real Sociedad on ABC (the first time a La Liga match has ever aired on U.S. broadcast television). Now, that team (and possibly La Liga, as it seems quite likely Messi is going outside the country) has lost one of its brightest stars.

As noted there, though, this move comes just weeks ahead of the start of the season for Barcelona, and that’s also just weeks ahead of when most European clubs are starting their season. So adding a high-ticket signing at this point is a little unusual, and it will probably require a club radically rethinking its budgetary approach. In the case of a talent like Messi, that seems quite likely to happen, but we’ll have to wait and see which club it will be.


About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.