Can Barcelona afford to keep Meesi? The League rules could force the team to part company with its iconic superstar.

When Lionel Messi stepped off the field late Saturday night after the final of Copa America, the Argentina captain - one of the most celebrated athletes in history - was, at long last a champion in his national colors.

He was also, only weeks after his 34th birthday, unemployed.

Messi's talent has never been in question. A six-time world player of the year, he is among the best players of his or any generation. His professional future, though, and even his ability to suit up for E.C. Barcelona next season, is in doubt.

 Messi wants to stay at Barcelona, the only professional home he has known, And Barcelona desperately wants to keep him. But the club's dire financial straits and a series of fateful decisions by team management - including the potentially disastrous one to let Messi's contract expire at the end of the June-  have imperiled what is one of the most successful associations between a club and a single player in soccer history.

A rupture between Messi and Barcelona would be seismic for both sides. Messi has been the focal point of Barcelona for nearly two decades, the architect of much of its success on the field and the engine of its financial might away from it.

But while Barcelona has collected money at breathtaking speed in recent years - in 2019 it became the first club to surpass $1 billion in annual revenue - it also spent with even more alacrity, living life on a financial edge through impulsive management, rash decisions and imprudent contracts. 

Messi's most recent four-year deal alone, if he met every clause and condition, was worth almost $675 million, a sum so large that it had an inflationary affect on the salaries of all of his teammates, fuelling a payroll that now eats up about three-fourths of Barcelona's annual revenue.

Now, facing debts of more than Euro billion and losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Barcelona is struggling to balance its books in a way that adheres to league rules.

Instead, Barcelona may be pushed to sell off key players - the German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the Dutch playmaker Frenkie de Jong and even Pedri, the latest locally reared Barcelona starlet, would most likely bring the highest returns - in order to make ends meet.

But if, as is likely, Barcelona will not be able to make the necessary cuts, it will find itself in another bind. Under league regulations, a team can spend only a quarter of the money it receives from player sales on new contracts.

That means even if it can clear tens of millions of dollars off the books, it will only have a fraction of that total available to sign Messi - or anyone else.

Could the unthinkable - Barcelona's  losing Messi for free - be imminent? Perhaps. But La Liga said as recently as last week that there would be no exceptions, no special rules to keep him in Spain.

''Of course, we want Messi to stay,'' said Tebas, La Liga's chief executive. ''But when you're running a league you cannot base decisions on individual players or clubs.''

The World Students Society thanks author Tariq Panja.


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