What went into Lionel Messi's exit from Barcelona? And what does his future hold?

August 5, 2021

By Doug McIntyre 
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

It was only seven words long, but the statement Barcelona released on its social channels on Thursday afternoon was as stunning as it was succinct.

"Latest news: Lionel Messi will not continue with FC Barcelona." 

It was as if whoever had been asked to type those words and blast them out across the world couldn’t bring themselves to elaborate. Why? What happened? How did it happen?

Messi, of course is widely regarded as the greatest player who ever lived. He’s been with Barca since he was literally a child. The club that plucked him from his native Argentina and moved him and his father to the Catalan capital had done so even though the boy had a hormone deficiency that could’ve prevented him from becoming a professional.

But Barcelona knew what it had in the little lefty, who, despite having topped out at only 5-foot-7, went on to dominate La Liga and the rest of Europe for the next 17 years, helping Barcelona to 10 Spanish titles and four of its five UEFA Champions League crowns.

Messi stunned the world last summer when, following an embarrassing Champions League loss to Bayern Munich, he made public his desire to leave the club. But not only did he end up staying to see out the final year of a contract that pays him north of $100 million a year, he appeared to have gotten his way. Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, whom Messi accused of lying to him in an explosive interview, was forced out. 

This summer, the club brought in veteran Argentine forward Sergio Aguero, one of Messi’s best friends, to help appease him. And according to all reports, Messi and the club had reached an agreement on a two-year contract extension that would allow him to leave for MLS side Inter Miami in 2023, then return to Barca as a permanent club ambassador.

Sure, Barcelona had to shed a few contracts before the deal could be signed, but that seemed a mere formality. 

Until suddenly it wasn’t.

"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)," the club later elaborated in a statement posted to its website.

"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."

And just like that, it was over. 

Or is it? 

Because last summer, it looked for all the world like Messi would be leaving Barcelona. He wanted out but ended up staying. Now that he wants to stay, it appears impossible. But maybe, once again, there is a way back. Messi is coming off yet another career highlight this summer after winning the Copa America, his first senior international trophy for Argentina, a prize that even Pele and Messi’s compatriot Diego Maradona never hoisted. 

Messi appears to be in a great place. The best player ever wants to stay with the only professional team he’s ever represented, and he can’t because of an accounting issue? It seems impossible. Millions of fans around the world are hoping that when the dust settles, the 34-year-old will be back at Camp Nou this month.

And if he isn’t, what then? As was the case 12 months ago, there are only two other clubs with the profile and financial resources to realistically land him, only two destinations that make sense: Man City, which is coached by Pep Guardiola, Messi’s former Barcelona boss, and Paris Saint-Germain, where he would be reunited with former Barca forward Neymar and Argentina teammates Angel Di Maria, Mauro Icardi and Leandro Paredes.

Both clubs are desperate to win the Champions League for the first time; PSG lost in 2020, while City lost to Premier League rival Chelsea in this year’s final in May. Messi could put either team over the hump. But that’s a topic for another day.

Right now, we’re all still digesting this truly shocking development. For neutrals and Barcelona diehards alike, it’s pretty hard to stomach.

One of the most prominent soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams in more than a dozen countries, including multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports, the New York City native was a staff writer for Yahoo Sports and ESPN. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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