Its motto is “More than a club,” a theme that bullish Barcelona President Joan Laporta riffed on at a media conference on Friday as he insisted that the La Liga team “is above” even Lionel Messi.
Laporta was addressing the media the day after Barcelona announced that Messi, widely considered one of the greatest players of all time, would not be signing a new deal after 19 years at the Catalan club.
Barcelona said that both parties had reached an agreement over a new contract, but the club’s dire financial situation and La Liga’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations meant it couldn’t be signed.
“Renewing Messi carried certain risks […] but we cannot put the club at greater risk,” Laporta told reporters.
“You have to put feelings aside, you have to look at numbers with a cold head. We wanted La Liga to be more flexible, but this is no excuse. We knew the rules and what we have been left with from the previous board makes it all impossible.
“The club is above everything, even the best player in the world,” he added.
The recently reappointed president, who put much of the blame at the door of former president Josep Bartomeu, said that current salaries represent 110% of the club’s total income, meaning there was “no margin” for movement.
Laporta said the club and Messi had initially agree on a two-year deal to be paid over a five year period, and then a five-year deal.
Even with Messi’s reduced salary, Laporta said the salaries would account for 95% of the club’s income, which would still leave little room for manoeuvre.
Messi’s previous contract, which expired at the end of June, was revealed by Spanish newspaper El Mundo to be worth $672 million and made him the highest paid athlete in sports history.
Laporta said that a recent audit showed that the club’s finances inherited from the previous administration was bigger and “a lot worse” than expected.
Messi, who made his Barcelona debut in 2004, has won 10 La Liga titles and four Champions Leagues with the Catalan club.
In April, Messi won his 35th trophy with the club as Barcelona beat Athletic Bilbao 4-0 in the Copa del Rey final.
However, the Barca president said Friday heralded the beginning of a new era and said he was convinced that the post-Messi era would be a successful one.
“We are more motivated than ever, a high level will be demanded of us and we are ready to take on the challenge that, without Messi, Barça continue to give joy,” Laporta said.
Messi’s situation is the first of many headaches that Laporta will endure as he tries to organize the squad ahead of the upcoming season, with big summer signings Sergio Agüero, Eric García and Memphis Depay all unable to be registered until Barcelona gets its finances in order.
Some of the blame for Barcelona’s financial crisis can be apportioned to the coronavirus outbreak.
The enforced lockdown due to the pandemic brought football to a halt around the world and slashed clubs’ income, notably through ticket sales and television rights deals.
Barcelona was particularly badly affected, with much of its ticket sales coming from tourists who typically go on to spend more money in other areas of the stadium.
“I would say it’s more incompetence [than an accident],” Financial Times writer Simon Kuper, author of “The Barcelona Complex,” told CNN’s Quest Means Business. “I mean, look, Covid hit every football club because the stadiums were closed.
“It was worse for Barcelona because at a lot of games, a third of the seats in the stadium are occupied by tourists, who also buy in the megastore and museum, it’s such a tourists’ city.”
Barca’s problems have been exacerbated by the club’s move away from promoting La Masia players to the first team – an academy which has developed a host of stars, notably Messi, Pep Guardiola, Andres Iniesta and Xavi – instead choosing to spend vast transfer fees and wages on already established stars.
Barcelona has reportedly spent more than $1 billion on transfer fees since the 2013/14 season.
“But they had been incompetent,” Kuper says. “In the book, I detail how over about five years they spent more than a billion dollars on transfers, buying players, more than any other club in soccer and they ended up with this aging, rather weak team, if you leave Messi out of that.
“So they just systematically bought the wrong players, they stopped producing good players, in the end they were spending more than their entire revenue on wages and let wages get out of control.
“So the club is to blame for this situation that they’ve got themselves in.”