Lionel Messi’s future remains uncertain after a meeting between the club and the player’s representatives failed to find a solution to the stand-off, leaving Manchester City awaiting developments and believing this is a question of who blinks first.
Faced with the growing prospect of being obliged to stay at the Camp Nou, at least until his contract runs out next summer, Messi must decide how hard he is prepared to try to force an exit and what his next move is.
On Wednesday night Messi’s father, Jorge, his brother Rodrigo and his lawyer, Jorge Pecourt, met the Barcelona president, Josep Maria Bartomeu, and board member Javier Bordas for the first time since Messi served notice of his intention to leave. The meeting was described by the club as cordial but it brought no resolution, increasing the prospect of the Argentinian having little choice but to stay until 2021.
During the meeting Messi’s camp reiterated his desire to depart on a free, while being open to a negotiated settlement. Barcelona remained firm that they do not want to sell, that he remains under contract and that any club would have to pay his €700m buyout clause. Barcelona also warned Messi’s representatives that if he were to depart unilaterally, requesting that Fifa process his transfer pending a final resolution, they would sue.
A clause in Messi’s contract allows him to walk away at the end of each season, but he failed to inform Barcelona of his intention to do so before the 10 June deadline. His representatives argue that date should be pushed back because the season extended into late August, whereas the club remain adamant he can no longer depart. Both sides stuck to those stances.
Messi’s claim to be able to leave on a free was not watertight but his behaviour since serving notice of his departure was designed to reinforce the idea he had exercised that right and was effectively no longer a Barcelona player. That was why he did not turn up for pre-season training. But testing that legally is costly, slow and risky. It exposes Messi and the club that signs him to possible sanctions and an eventual transfer fee set by tribunal.
Nor has it yet served to back Barcelona into a corner. Although the decision to walk away unilaterally could not be definitive given his failure to do so by 10 June – at which point the season was still not over and City had not had their European ban overturned by the court of arbitration for sport – the threat of a unilateral departure, possibly on a free, did put pressure on Barcelona to seek a resolution.
So, too, does the fact that Messi’s contract expires next year. Barcelona’s economic crisis would also encourage a sale, it was thought, but Bartomeu has refused to budge.
City do not intend to be drawn into a legal battle and nor can they risk being liable for a huge transfer fee; their hope has been to get Messi on a free or at least to drive down the fee. Although they have communicated with Messi, they have not made a formal contract offer and must wait for him and Barcelona to reach a negotiated settlement.
For now, there is stalemate. City believed from the start there was a chance they would be able to sign the six-time Ballon d’Or winner but were under no illusions it would be easy.
Messi has not spoken publicly. With no clear solution before him, he must decide his next move.