Lionel Messi has saved Barcelona from themselves. The Argentine superstar picked the guarantees that Inter Miami and MLS (with some help from Apple and Adidas) could give him as opposed to hoping that things could work out for him to return to Barcelona. Barca are riding a high after unseating Real Madrid for La Liga, but the club needs to reload for a Champions League run next season while also ensuring that their talented young players are all there next season. That’s something that wouldn’t have been possible if they spent all summer trying to find the financial flexibility to get their one time talisman to fit in under La Liga rules.
Club president Joan Laporta didn’t take well to Messi’s move to Miami as Barcelona released a statement saying, “On Monday June 5 Jorge Messi, the player’s father and representative, informed Club President Joan Laporta of the player’s decision to join Inter Miami, despite having been presented with a proposal from Barça, in consideration of the desire of both FC Barcelona and Lionel Messi for him to once again wear blaugrana.
President Laporta understood and respected Messi’s decision to want to compete in a league with fewer demands, further away from the spotlight and the pressure he has been subject to in recent years.”
There’s a lot to unpack here even removing Laporta’s shade of calling Miami of all places further from the spotlight. Messi will be the biggest star ever to touch a pitch in MLS and his every move will be covered from top to bottom. Expectations-wise, it couldn’t get much higher than that for Messi but the focus here is on the proposal from Barcelona.
La Liga president Javier Tebas already outlined what needed to be done for Messi to return to Barcelona. The club would need to offload players in order to comply with financial regulations. Given that they went down to the wire to register new signings last season, only being able to offer that proposal and not even get into talking money with Messi isn’t something that he can wait on.
It’s not that things came down solely to money. Messi turned down an offer of over €1 billion from Saudi Arabia. Quality of life, the team that can be built around him, and the general level of it being a real deal all came into play. At the end of the day, Miami came with an official offer while Barcelona never advanced past a proposal.
But, the thing is, this is also what is in Barcelona’s best interests. They will need to move in another direction. Needing to sell, adjust their formation and potentially become a weaker team with Messi, Xavi could have a stronger squad without Messi returning to the Spotify Camp Nou, and here’s why:
Keeping young players
Messi would not be able to immediately be registered if he came to the club. Young players like Alejandro Balde and Ansu Fati would likely need to be sold and even Frenkie de Jong would again be going through the transfer rumor mill. Messi mentioned not wanting players to take pay cuts or be sold as one of his reasons why he didn’t accept Barcelona’s proposal.
If Messi returned it would have meant players like Raphinha or Jules Kounde leaving after a successful first season with the club may have been one of the only ways to make the finances work. But with Xavi building something special by bringing the club back to their roots with most of the minutes being occupied by players 26 and younger, ripping that out ahead of a busy season would only move Barcelona back after making so much progress.
Strength in defense
While a team that employs Messi only needs to worry so much about how their defense performs, everything at Barcelona begins from the back. Allowing 0.53 goals per game in league play, Barcelona had an unreal defensive season and it almost didn’t matter who Xavi played in defense as even Marcos Alonso deputized as a center back. A lot of those plaudits go to Marc-Andre ter Stegen in net but in reality, Barcelona just strangled games and didn’t allow shots due to the midfield working well with the back line. After scoring 70 goals this past season, Messi wouldn’t raise that number much in returning but he could upset a delicate defensive balance.
After being knocked out of Champions League and faltering in Europa League, Barcelona could use strength in depth to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. But depth is one thing that the team can’t get if Messi returned because if anything squad depth would be gutted. The ability to look for a true right back to give a change of pace to complement Balde on the left when needed, for example, wouldn’t be possible but now Xavi can focus on the squad that he has and how he wants to make it as strong as possible.
It’s understandable why Laporta would like it to seem like Messi didn’t reject the club, because they don’t have money as it wouldn’t make it seem like Barcelona is in a strong position moving forward. But the reality is they’re certainly in a stronger position to position themselves for the future without Messi than they would be with him.