It's the moment we thought may never come: Barcelona have officially confirmed that Lionel Messi has left.
While rumours of a departure have been rife for over a year – and a move to Manchester City seemed likely at one point – the moment seemed to have passed, even once the legend's contract expired at the beginning of July.
Since then, he has been a free agent, but staying at Barça appeared almost inevitable, with contract negotiations taking place during the period and potential suitors cooling their interest amid their own financial calculations.
In fact, last month La Liga chief Javier Tebas declared that it would be "financial doping" if a team such as Manchester City attempted to sign Messi on the terms he had previously been on at Barcelona.
La Liga is aware that Messi is the star attraction of the Spanish league, especially since the departure of fellow global icon Cristiano Ronaldo three years ago. Were Messi to leave Barcelona to move abroad, it would have an impact not just on Barça, but on the global interest in Spanish football as a whole. That would have an enormous financial effect on La Liga and its clubs.
But at the same time, La Liga is also trying to impose Financial Fair Play rules, which are distinct and in some ways stricter than other leagues.
They have analysts who assess each team's financial health and set individual squad cost limits. With the financial impact of COVID-19, this has led many teams with smaller budgets to work with, and Barcelona have been particularly affected – players needed to be sold before summer signings Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay could be registered for the new season.
It is that rule, according to Barcelona, that prevents Messi staying in Spain longer. A deal was struck, according to their statement, that both club and player were happy with – it was only "Spanish Liga regulations" that created "obstacles".
The message is clear: Messi is leaving because of La Liga's rules. The club are happy for him to stay, the player is happy to stay, but Javier Tebas won't allow it.
This looks less like a final comment, then, than a negotiating tactic. Not from club against player, but club against league.
It's worth remembering in all this that Barcelona was not only one of the teams that attempted to found a European Super League, but remains committed to the idea. The financial distribution of La Liga income is something they are clearly unhappy with, and want to completely overhaul.
It's noteworthy that their rivals and Super League co-conspirators, Real Madrid, used Thursday night to make their own bombshell statement condemning La Liga's funding deal with private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. It looks a lot like a concerted effort against La Liga.
Whether La Liga will bow to Barcelona's pressure and relax its financial rules is unclear. But what Barça's statement does make clear there is that Messi could yet stay in Catalonia.
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