After 18 years of playing for Barcelona, soccer icon Lionel Messi announced that he intended to leave the club this summer. Messi, 33, is considered by many to be the best active soccer player, if not the greatest of all time. Syrak Micael, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), described Messi as “a god,” and said that “there’s consensus for him to be the most skilled player” in the world. Messi has won the Ballon D’or — the award for the best soccer player of the season — six times, which is a record. He has won the Spanish domestic league La Liga ten times with Barcelona, and has lifted the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) Champions League trophy on four occasions. He holds the record for most goals scored in La Liga, at 444, as well as most assists, with 183. Beckett Ellis-Chatman, a junior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), said “there’s been no one like him in history,” adding that, “he can kind of just create goals at will.”
Messi’s initial decision to leave the club came after a poor season for Barcelona, as they failed to make the semifinals of the Copa Del Rey, collapsed in the final stretches of the La Liga season to finish second, and then were clobbered 8-2 in their Champions League quarterfinal match against Bayern Munich. Following this humiliation, the club fired their coach, Quique Setien, and hired former Netherlands national team captain Ronald Koeman to fill the position.
On August 25, Messi sent a letter to Barcelona stating that he planned on leaving the team via free transfer. Rumors began to fly about where Messi would play next. Manchester City was thought to be a top contender to sign him as one of the few teams who could afford his wages, and Messi’s father went to England to discuss terms with the club. Ellis-Chatman says that the interest in the team stemmed from the success Messi and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola had when they worked together from 2008 to 2012, and said, “Messi wanted to replicate that at Manchester City.” Other contenders to sign him included Paris Saint-Germain, the Champions League runners-up with plenty of cash to spend, and in the case that Messi was feeling sentimental, Newell’s Old Boys, the team from his hometown of Rosario in Argentina.
However, the transfer fell through, as Barcelona responded to Messi’s letter by arguing that the deadline for him to leave without a release fee had passed, as it was scheduled to end ten days after the season ended, on June 10. Therefore, Barcelona argued, an $837 million buyout clause would have to be used for Messi to leave, far too high for the transfer to be feasible for any club. The season was delayed due to COVID-19, so it did not conclude until August. Messi said that the higher-ups at Barcelona “cling to the fact that [he] did not say it before June 10, when it turns out that on June 10 [they] were competing for La Liga in the middle of this awful coronavirus and this disease altered all the season,” explaining why he believed that he should still be able to leave the club for free. Ellis-Chatman voiced his disapproval for the inflexibility of Barcelona’s leadership, saying, “I think there’s something inherently wrong with not allowing someone to choose their own fate.” Due to this argument over whether or not he should be allowed to leave because of the delayed season, the only way Messi would be able to move to a new team this summer was if he went to court over the contract.
He decided he wouldn’t do this, saying, “I would never go to court against Barça because it is the club that I love.” This means Messi will stay in the team at least until his contract runs out next summer. Barcelona means a great deal to Messi, and even in a dispute over his contract, he said his “love for Barça will never change.”
Messi joined the club when he was only 13 years old as a once-in-a-generation talent, and quickly rose through the ranks until he became a staple in the starting 11. He captured the hearts of many Barcelona fans as he helped shape the “tiki taka” style of possession and accurate passing that the club is famous for, winning a heap of trophies in the process. Micael said, “He’s brought so much to the club, and the club has brought so much to him. There’s this bond with him, the club, the fans, and that’s just a loyalty that you probably won’t see in any sport.”