PETE JENSON: Lionel Messi’s World Cup win proves Barcelona were WRONG to let him go… bad blood remains after the board deemed him expendable, but it’s the Argentine’s family that holds the key to the fairytale return Barca desire

  • Barcelona allowed Lionel Messi to leave last year after deeming him expendable 
  • His World Cup win has shown that this was a big mistake by the Catalan giants
  • Barcelona want him back, but bad blood remains between Messi and the board 
  • Messi’s family want to return to Barcelona next year when his PSG contract ends
  • Barcelona must hope his family can convince him to go back to the Nou Camp 

They argued at the time that they couldn’t afford to keep him. But Lionel Messi winning the World Cup now makes Barcelona‘s decision to let him leave in the summer of 2021 look like one of the most short-sighted and costly calls in the club’s history.

He was finished, they had decided. 

They could have moved the mannequins around in the shop window to make space for him for four more years. They could have sold, or spent less on incoming players (they would eventually give 34-year-old Robert Lewandowski a four-year contract), they could have accepted LaLiga‘s investment deal with CVC which would have curried enough favour with the Spanish league to see him registered.

They chose not to. If only they had known that his greatest achievement was still ahead of him. Now as the gravy train pulls out of Qatar Central and heads back to Europe it will be stopping in Paris and not Barcelona.

Barcelona deemed Lionel Messi expendable and allowed him to leave the club last year

Barcelona deemed Lionel Messi expendable and allowed him to leave the club last year

Messi winning the World Cup with Argentina has shown that Barcelona made a big mistake

Messi winning the World Cup with Argentina has shown that Barcelona made a big mistake

They have been linked to re-signing him next summer after well connected Argentine journalist Veronica Brunati tweeted on his theoretical return. It’s certainly still the move his family favour.

But the word from his camp is that nothing regarding his future is yet set in stone and what’s clear is that the the gulf that opened up in the relationship between him and club president Joan Laporta would need to be closed considerably, wounds would have to heal for any deal to be struck.

Laporta won the last presidential election on the unspoken promise of being able to make Messi stay at the club. ‘He generates a third of the club’s income,’ he said in his defence when Spanish paper El Mundo leaked the details of Messi’s last contract.

‘I can only see him in a Barcelona shirt’ Laporta told Sportsmail just before the election at the start of 2021. ‘What upsets Leo most is that they [the previous board] lied to him. I am lucky enough to be able to say that he [Messi] has told me: “you have never lied to me. Always when you have proposed something to me, you have kept your word”.’

Barcelona want Messi back but Messi's relationship with Joan Laporta (left) is now strained

Barcelona want Messi back but Messi’s relationship with Joan Laporta (left) is now strained

Messi no longer feels the same way after the club allowed him to leave despite convincing him that a deal had been done. 

Back in August 2021 Messi texted his pal Sergio Aguero that he would see him at training on the Friday before the bombshell dropped. On the Wednesday his father and agent Jorge had boarded a plane bound for Barcelona on the understanding that it was to sign his son’s new contract. On the Thursday it was announced Messi was leaving.

‘As the president [Laporta] said everything was done, but it didn’t happen because of LaLiga,’ Messi said in his teary farewell press conference in reference to Barcelona opting to pull out of the agreement with LaLiga and CVC investment that exchanged a fraction of future TV rights earnings for an immediate €270m (£236m) payment.

Laporta may now not be able to convince Messi to come back to Barcelona next summer

Laporta may now not be able to convince Messi to come back to Barcelona next summer

Barcelona had their reasons for not accepting that deal. 

They subsequently mortgaged off future revenues for instant financial compensation in a series of other agreements with TV rights and the production arm of their organisation among assets that went under the hammer. They believe the terms they secured on their own were better than those in the deal with the other clubs in Spain.

It’s also not fair to say Messi’s departure can be pinned on Laporta. It was the financial mismanagement of his predecessor Josep Bartomeu that left him with such a financially fragile institution incapable of riding out the post-pandemic storm.

Decisions had to be made. There were some hard choices. The club had to prioritise – they chose not to prioritise keeping Messi.

He was deemed expendable. Those who argued that his final years would be lucrative ones, even if on the pitch he was in decline, were talked down. Because of the pandemic his last game for Barcelona was played out in an empty stadium.

However, Barcelona may hope Messi's family can convince him to go back to Barcelona

However, Barcelona may hope Messi’s family can convince him to go back to Barcelona

There should have been an entire season of Nou Camp full-houses desperate to get a final glimpse of him in one of his last games.

This is the last season Barcelona will be playing in the Nou Camp before it is renovated. This may yet still be Messi’s last season – let’s see if his desire to go on playing for both club and country continues once the high of winning the World Cup has worn off. Those two things should have been commercially combined.

On New Years Eve Barcelona play at home to neighbours Espanyol. The Catalan derby should have been marked by Messi’s return to action as a World Champion and in a Barcelona shirt. Instead it will be in the PSG jersey – Ligue 1’s gain and LaLiga’s loss.

Messi still hasn’t decided on his summer options with a PSG renewal, Major League Soccer is still on the table, and a Barcelona homecoming is the eternal alternative.

Returning to the gravy train – it just feels like it’s already left the station. Messi won the World Cup, but not as a Barcelona player.

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