Messi with the GOAT, you get the horns: Why Messi couldn’t leave Barcelona

September 28, 2020

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2 min read

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What's going on here?

Lionel Messi’s bid to leave Barcelona fails after a ten-day standoff between player and club.

What does this mean?

On 25th August, ten days after Barcelona lost 2-8 to Bayern Munich, Messi sent a burofax to Barcelona requesting to invoke a contractual clause (“the clause”) suggesting he can leave on a free transfer in the final year of his deal. 

This is where it gets Messi. Ordinarily, Messi would have to trigger the clause at the end of the season – on or before 31st May. FIFA, however, has confirmed a global indefinite extension to the 2019-20 season to limit the financial damage to the sport from the coronavirus outbreak. While it is uncertain what effect this has on player contracts meant to end on 31st May, Messi is looking to argue that his ability to trigger the clause has been similarly extended indefinitely.

But this is the GOAT we’re talking about, and Barcelona is not going to let him leave that easily, much less for free. Barcelona, therefore, has asserted that the deadline to trigger the clause has not changed. Thus, Messi can only leave if an interested team pays his release clause – an option to purchase a footballer at a set price that, if met, must be accepted. In Messi’s case, this price is set at a staggering €700m.

What's the big picture effect?

Messi released a statement on September 4th stating that he would remain at Barcelona to avoid entering into a legal dispute. But the mess is far from over – his contract will still expire in June 2021, meaning that Messi will be free to negotiate with other teams from 1 January 2021. 

More generally, this kerfuffle calls the efficacy of release clauses into question. Clubs use release clauses to either deter potential bidders by setting the fee higher than the player’s perceived market value, or lower to encourage bidders. Theoretically, there is no limit to how high or low these prices can go. For example, Isco and Marco Asensio of Real Madrid also have €700m release clauses. With player transfer fees rising, it is arguable these increasingly astronomical values will lead to onerous outcomes. The deterrent effect is such that interested teams are unable to afford their fees, and players are forced to remain at the club. This may potentially trigger liability under European law for the restriction of trade, whereby European Courts may decide that release clauses overtly prevent the “trade” of football players between teams. Furthermore, where release clauses have been mandatory in Spanish football contracts since 1985, it is a realistic possibility that inflated release clauses would result in transfer paralysis

Nonetheless, it seems like some market correction is due soon. The pandemic has stifled clubs’ financials, and they are now less willing to pay exorbitant prices to acquire a player’s services. Hence for now, release clauses will have to be lowered to continue effectuating player’s transfers.

Report written by Mathew Poon

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