Lionel Messi hadn’t even started talking when he started crying. Holding a tissue handed to him by his wife, Antonella, he leant on the lectern and looked down, lost.
There was applause from the room, a lot of red eyes, but no words yet, and none that were much use anyway. “Bon día,” he said eventually. “For the last few days, I have been turning over what I would say, what I could say, and nothing came out. I had a block; I still do. This is very hard for me; I’m not prepared for this.”
And then Messi said it, the thing that really mattered: not where he will be playing next season, although that is set to be Paris Saint-Germain, but where he will not be playing. After 21 years, 17 seasons in the first team, and having won 35 trophies, which were displayed to the side of him, Messi is leaving Barcelona. It is not what he wanted. “Last year it was, this year it wasn’t,” he said. “We were convinced we were continuing here, at home.”
Instead, he is going. Everyone knew that, barring some fantasy scenario, some incredible twist of last-minute salvation. Yet there was still an impact in hearing it from him, in listening to a reality he too had failed to foresee. “It’s still hard to assimilate. When I get home from here the penny will probably drop more and it will be even worse,” he said. The 34-year-old described this as the worst moment of his career.
When Messi had finished those awkward introductory words there was a standing ovation. It went on for two minutes, interrupted only by the need to proceed. There were questions to be asked, although some remain unanswered.
Another announcement is expected soon, but Messi wasn’t revealing his destination. In fact, he denied there was one yet. There had been calls, but no contract. Let him have this moment first, his goodbye, even if wasn’t a moment he wanted and certainly not the way he wanted it – fans at the gate of a stadium that has stood empty for 18 months.
Although Messi confirmed the explanation offered by Joan Laporta, the club president, that in the end he had been unable to continue because Barcelona could not comply with La Liga’s salary limits, there was also a lingering sense that he had felt let down. Maybe even that the club had backed out, thrown in the towel, their priorities elsewhere despite all the protestations. He had returned from holiday in Ibiza to sign, not to sign off. When he arrived, something had changed.
There are hints of a bigger battle behind the scenes, Barcelona and Real Madrid still clinging to the Super League project, Laporta unwilling to fall into line with La Liga. He had decided not to accept La Liga’s proposal to sell 10% of its commercial business to the investment fund CVC, and thus turned down the cash injection that would have facilitated Messi’s deal, describing it as a 50-year mortgage he could not accept.
“I thought it was all sorted, but at the last minute because of the league [financial controls]thing it couldn’t happen,” Messi said. “It was all agreed but it wasn’t to be. After the elections, I went to eat with the new president and we talked. And after that I was quite convinced that I would continue, that there would be no problem. My contract was never a problem. After that what happened, happened. I never had any doubts: we were decided, we would [stay].”
Asked if Barcelona had done all they could to keep him, Messi replied: “I don’t know, what I am clear about is that I did everything I could. Laporta said we couldn’t do it because of the league [rules]. I can tell you that I did all that I could to stay, because I wanted to stay.” Yet when he was pushed as to whether anyone had misled him, he insisted: “No, we all did what we could.”
He added: “We were all convinced that it was going to happen. We had it all sorted out, there was no problem, and we were always honest with people. It wasn’t to be because of the reasons we said but from my point of view, I never misled anyone. I don’t know the full mechanics of [the league’s salary limit criteria], all I know is that it wasn’t to be because of the league, the club’s debt and the club didn’t want to get more into debt.”
Source: The Guardian