Source: BBC Sport
Thursday 1 June 2023 11:35:55
Lionel Messi is expected to decide in the coming hours where he will be playing his football next season - the only thing that seems certain is that it will not be at Barcelona.
Messi would have liked nothing more than to return to the place that was his home since he left Argentina as a 12-year-old in pursuit of his footballing dream.
But his camp has told Barcelona the decision on his future is imminent and they cannot wait any longer for a proposal from them that has not arrived, despite promises the Catalan club would have something in place by now.
The 35-year-old World Cup winner wants to stay in Europe but, after it was decided he would leave Paris St-Germain this summer, the forthcoming offers from the continent have not been attractive enough.
In Saudi Arabia there are government officials already working on his arrival. They have been told Messi has accepted a very lucrative offer from Al-Hilal and are preparing for the move. This could simply be his camp preparing for his decision - or it is the most attractive proposition for the player.
American side Inter Miami are another option, although a reported loan deal between them and Barcelona - where he would end up temporarily at the Catalan club - is not on the cards.
The timing and announcement of his decision will be decided by his new club.
Once again the Barcelona media machine has been mobilised to persuade anyone and everyone that their failure to secure a deal is the fault of the player and La Liga.
A melange of misinformation, half-truths and outright lies emanating from a friendly press ignore the fact Barcelona have at no point put any proposal to the player and that they cannot offer any guarantee they will be able to do so before the September 1 deadline.
The Financial Fair Play limitations that will be in place for next season also make any ambitious plan to bring him back an impossibility.
But, rather than admit this, Barcelona prefer to give the impression they are making tireless efforts to bring him home - only for them to be pushed back either by Messi or the allegedly 'draconian' limitations put on them by the league's governing body.
It is simply not true.
Manager Xavi said yesterday that 99% of what was required for the player to return to the club was down to Messi himself. Perhaps that is what Xavi has been told, but it is all words and putting the emphasis on his decision is based on an intentionally wrong reading of the affair.
These are the moments when teams start to put their plans in place. And with plans for his return seemingly now dead in the water, it is damage limitation time for Barcelona as they set about trying to show they did everything possible to bring him home.
Messi's team made it clear he was prepared to play for whatever wage that would have helped Barcelona stay the right side of FFP regulations and he would even be prepared to play for free if asked - although that is neither acceptable to La Liga or even legal under Spanish law.
The French newspaper L'Equipe said there was the possibility of Messi being signed by Inter Miami and then going on loan to Barcelona. This is an idea that has come from the American club, but never had any chance of going past the talking stage.
How can Inter convince Messi to be signed by them and go on loan to Barcelona for few months? The player, for many the best ever, would feel like a commodity.
In any case, despite being discussed by the two clubs, at no point has any proposal along those lines been made to the player himself.
The accusation La Liga is to blame is risible. They are followed by nonsensical accusations La Liga also has in place anti-Barcelona regulations. It is the exact opposite.
La Liga rules are in place to protect clubs, Barcelona included, from owners and directors financially ruining them.
The temptation when directors get money is to invest it in players when the reality is they should be as much or more concentrated on paying debts and improving infrastructure.
Due to the usage of 'financial levers' that allowed Barcelona to invest in the club last season, but won't be able to be used again, they presented a liquidity plan recently to La Liga. This was in addition to the budget plans that all clubs have to provide, to prove to the league they are living within their means.
The reason they have to provide these plans is to reassure the league that any extra incoming money will not be spent in a way that could jeopardise the future of the club.
The temptation of spending on players, rather than on much-needed repairs or debt repayments, is akin to buying prohibitively expensive designer furniture to place in a living room, while there is a massive hole in the roof.
Clubs present budget plans which show their income minus all non-sporting financial commitments and any outstanding debts that need to be serviced.
What is left is the money available to pay players. It is up to Barcelona if they want to use all that money to pay for Messi, but they have never indicated they want to do that, instead suggesting they need to register Ronald Araujo or Gavi with their new contracts first.
The reality is the club still have massive debts to cover and their spending capacity will be very limited.
That information will arrive officially from La Liga to Barcelona in the next few days, but the club is very aware of those limits, which will not be announced to the public until after the markets have closed to not affect transfers.
Meanwhile, you hear false stories in the Catalan media about how La Liga and Barcelona are holding meetings to talk about Messi, and there is only a shortfall of around 40m euros (£34.6m) between what the club have presented and what La Liga wants to resolve their FFP situation. This, again, is untrue.
The most worrying aspect is that, with the distraction of Messi, people are not realising since the arrival of president Joan Laporta, the debt is neither being reduced at the rate it needs to be, nor being reduced in sufficient quantities to allow them to have a budget for the players that will allow them to be competitive in Europe.