Lionel Messi’s decision to quit Barcelona for Manchester City is to be rewarded with a contract that will cement the multiple Ballon d’Or winner’s status as the highest-paid individual in the history of the sport.
According to Record Sport, Messi has agreed financial terms worth Kshs 90 billion over the course of five years in the employ of City Football Group, the Premier League club’s holding company.
Messi – who on Sunday underlined last week’s unilateral recision of the final year of his Barcelona contract by failing to report for mandatory COVID testing at the club – is expected to spend three seasons at Manchester City before moving to CFG’s Major League Soccer franchise New York City FC.
The deal allows the group’s Abu Dhabi ownership to employ the footballer they have coveted above all others since buying into European football 12 years ago at CFG’s two most prominent clubs, with a degree of flexibility retained over the exact timing of Messi’s cross-Atlantic switch.
According to a source familiar with the negotiations, Messi has been offered an equity stake in CFG as part of his compensation package.
However, there are complications involved in the valuation of shares in a sports company that City stated was worth a heady $4.8billion upon announcing a $500m equity investment from a US tech company last year. The Argentina international may ultimately prefer to be remunerated in cash.
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Messi, 33, is said to have chosen City over other European suitors because of an ambition to play in the Premier League and a calculation that the best opportunity to add to his count of four Champions League titles and six Ballon d’Or comes from reuniting with Pep Guardiola.
“Messi thinks Guardiola took the best football out of him, and he wants to repeat that,” said a source close to the player.
The move also follows a long period of contractual and sporting tension between Messi, his advisors and Barca. With his current contract due to conclude in the summer of 2021, negotiation on a new Camp Nou deal were held earlier this year in which the player’s father, Jorge Messi, requested a further increase on financial terms that were already the most lucrative in the sport.
Last summer, Messi asked the club to focus recruitment efforts on bringing his friend Neymar back to Barcelona from Paris Saint-Germain, working with several team-mates to persuade the Brazil international to choose the Camp Nou over a competing offer from Real Madrid.
Barca failed to conclude the transfer, instead signing Antoine Griezmann from Atletico, a move that angered Messis and is understood to have cost his father a €20m commission on Neymar’s proposed transfer.
Messi’s current contract – the then-unprecedented terms of which were agreed in 2017 under pressure from an earlier competing offer from Abu Dhabi-owned City – contains a clause that permits him to leave Barcelona without transfer fee should he formally state his intention to do so within 20 days of the end of each La Liga season.
The player’s camp has received legal advise that this recision clause, which would have originally expired in June, remained in effective force last week because of the COVID-enforced extension to Barca’s season.
Barcelona’s lawyers are adamant that it has lawfully expired, and that the club would win any legal case brought by Messi to secure a transfer-fee-free switch this summer. On Sunday, the Spanish league stated that “the contract is currently in force and features a release clause to be applied in the event that Lionel Andres Messi should decide to activate the early unilateral termination of the contract”.
Although there have been discussions within the Barcelona hierarchy that the sale of Messi would make both economic and sporting sense for a club that is encumbered with heavy debts, and won no silverware while sacking two coaches last season, club president Jose Maria Bartomeu is under immense political pressure to retain Barca’s most popular player.
“We are not contemplating any kind of departure because what we want is for Messi to stay,” said Barcelona sporting director Ramon Planes last week. “We only have enormous respect for Leo Messi. Barca and Leo are like a marriage, where both have given so much to each other and have brought so much joy to the fans. We are putting every effort into ensuring that the relationship between Barca and Messi will continue. We are working internally to convince Leo.”
Bartomeu is due to stand down as president in March, but has been working to keep the long-term leadership out of the hands of leading opposition candidate Victor Font, who earlier this month demanded his immediate resignation.
According to a club source, Bartomeu does “not want to be remembered as the president who transferred Messi”, and also sees the political value in handing the problem of the Argentine’s status, power, financial demands and succession over to Font should the latter win next year’s election.